directed by Claude Berri
starring Jean-Pierrer Bacri, Emilie Dequenne
The set-up is cliched enough – middle-aged man, whose wife left him, hires a young, beautiful woman to clean his house as he clears out his past. After a few quirky innuendo-laced scenes, they become intimately involved. Hilarity ensues. Except, in this French film, things don’t quite work the way you would expect them to in an American counterpart.
Herein lies the tale Jacques, the afore-mentioned rejected husband, and Laura, the still-really-just-a-girl who want to be his housekeeper. Much about this story bucks the conventional older-man-younger-woman romance film conventions. We do not get to see the break-up between Jacques and his wife. This is left to the imagination, so we come in at the depression stage as Jacques is trying to move on after several months alone. Also, after the sexual relationship begins between Jacques and Laura, we are conditioned to expect manipulation from one side or the other. When Jacques notices dirty windows and asks about them, she replies, “You’re out of Windex.” When he buys glass cleaner the next day, she becomes elated that she will be able to finish her job. When Jacques is seen talking to an old female friend, Laura shows a flash of jealousy, but it quickly subsides. When a betrayal is exposed, physical violence is eschewed for deep disappointment. And when the inevitable happens, as everyone watching assumes it will, the result is quite low key. This reviewer found those subtleties refreshing.
Jean-Pierre Bacri plays Jacques to perfection as the curmudgeonly sourpuss recording engineer who had forgotten how to live alone, and then forgotten how to live with someone else. He had forgotten how to live at all, and then Laura reminded him how fun life can be, and just as he was remembering that, the film ended. Emilie Dequenne shines as the young woman who doesn’t really have an identity of her own. She reminds me of a cross between Leslie Caron and Scarlett Johansson. She is fresh and naive, ready to mold herself to whoever she is with at the time, like many young women unsure of themselves, believing that if they can please others they will be happy. Her smile is infectious. She is definitely an actress to watch in the future. These two performances are the real strength of the film. Any investment you have in these two characters is due to Bacri and Duquenne.
Which brings us to the weaknesses of the film. I really did not have much of an investment in either Jacques or Laura. The script gives us so little to work with. We know nothing of Laura before she moves in with Jacques, and we see only a few vignettes of them together before things progress to the next level. Once they are together, things move quickly to the climax and the very short denouement. With a short running time (under 90 minutes), perhaps peppering more slices of life into the character study could have elevated it into something special.
The screener copy had no extras, save a couple of trailers. Sound and picture quality were good but not spectacular. As it stands, I can recommend The Housekeeper on the basis of the lead actors performances and it’s unconventional approach to the May-December romance. However, this isn’t enough for a purchase. Rent it if you see it at your local video store.