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Une femme de menage

After the mammoth task of producing the monster hit Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, French film industry titan Claude Berri returns to directing with this modest but appealing romantic comedy-drama. Une femme de menagemay not break any new ground, but it is beautifully filmed and has the advantage of a strong performance from actor-writer Jean-Pierre Bacri, who’s best know here for Le Goût des autres/The Taste of Others. Here Bacri plays Jacques, a successful sound engineer whose wife (played by film director Catherine Breillat) has left him for another man. Having trouble keeping his smart apartment clean, Jacques responds to a notice and hires the young, easygoing Laura (Emilie Dequenne) to perform the weekly chores. When he finds himself sharing space with the young woman, Jacques is torn between annoyance at the intrusion into his peaceful domain and the pleasure of having female company again after the bitter experience of marital meltdown.
Unable to completely open himself up again to romantic feelings, Jacques decides he needs air and organises a summer vacation on the Brittany coast. Laura convinces him to take her along, but while she’s unafraid to commit, Jacques’ lingering caution and reserve with her cause problems. It’s familiar material for a French film, so much credit should go to Bacri for striking a fine, sympathetic balance between Jacques’ rigidity and his craving for intimacy. Mercifully, Berri’s script and Bacri’s characterisation shrewdly sidestep the midlife crisis cliches of standard older man-younger woman romances.
France, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 91 mins.

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