The Housekeeper (French)

My Rating:

Simple and French, a pretty enjoyable flick.

Bitable Bytes:
"Couldn't have been better!"
"A good impression!"
"A feat of care and subtlety!"
"[A] truffle of a film!"

What to do while watching:
Begin to feel for the protagonist though he seems rather unsympathetic at the outset.

What to eat while watching:
A baguette with cheese and tomato.

I remain in a state of overwhelm, my dear friends. I've been traveling for so long that there are endless things to do to get back into my life here at home. Yard work, housework, paperwork, work, work, work! Not to mention reviewing films. Dear friends, it's all I can do to breathe in the calm, breathe away the anxiety. But what a relief that you don't mind my rambling on about my personal life!

I suppose that's the advantage of pro bono movie reviewing. I can go off on tangents, or make gross mistakes, Meg Ryan for Melanie Griffith, for example, and there's no cost to the bottom line and no risk of being fired. And at least I'm not confusing Bill Griffith for Melanie Griffith. I'd fire myself for that kind of error.

My point is that simplicity is a good thing in my life right now. The timing of The Housekeeper finding its way into my VCR couldn't have been better. It's a French film with what I'd imagine to be limited U.S. distribution. Besides the effects of lingering jingoistic distaste in the U.S. for all things French, the film is very quiet. It's nothing like La Femme Nikita, the French spy-ninja thriller from the 90s. Though sultry in spots, it's not steamy hot like some other French films whose names may come to me later.

Jacques is a divorced man whose life has become quite drab, boiling down to workdays and long, lonely weekends. He takes meals, and jazz concerts, alone. As a man of slovenly demeanor, his apartment is going to seed as fast as his middle-aged body. With a bald pate and an often hang-dog look, he's in a rut, ripe to have his tree shaken though he little suspects it.

At his local cafe, Jacques finds a phone number for a housekeeper. As the movie's viewer, you will get the sense of what a significant door he opens by calling Laura, the fresh-faced new kid in town. She enters his life new to the housecleaning business, but decidedly in need of a livelihood. She's young and naive and energetic. And very cute, too.

Though Laura cleans while Jacques is at work, their lives begin to mesh more and more and their very different personalities begin to create dramatic Morey patterns, if you will. The age gap becomes a fertile meadow for realistic, light drama. This is by no means Freaky Friday, no rough-hewn comedy where an elder and a youngster battle over whose music is loudest. And yet, that's precisely what happens in The Housekeeper. One day, Jacques is home while Laura is cleaning his kitchen. She works with disco, turned loud; he sequesters himself in his room and turns classical musical on as high as it will go. It's not played for laughs, exactly, and we get to see instead the multifaceted character of Jacques: a man who likes to have his privacy, and have his way, but who is also interested in making a good impression.

Jacques also has a roving eye, as we see in camera shots that carefully frame a passing fanny within his line of sight. He's also hounded by his ex-wife, who left him and now is harassing him on the phone, calling and remaining silent. Jacques also has a platonic friendship with another woman his age, call her Marie, though why romance never blossomed between them is not explored.

Despite what R. Crumb would call his "troubles with women," Jacques would never imagine putting moves on young Laura. But as the movie unfolds, moves, indeed, get made, and love rears its mischievous noggin in unexpected places. Well, I guess it's not THAT unexpected, given the conventions of cinematic storytelling.

Nothing too shocking happens, no wild plot twists--Laura does not turn out to be a man. What's most refreshing about this film is how realistic it is. The unexplored relationship between Jacques and Marie sets the viewer up for an untidy ending where questions still remain even if resolution seems inevitable. Through it, a viewer grows to like the everyday protagonist, which is itself a feat of care and subtlety that many Hollywood blockbusters can't even attempt (think The Hulk, The Last Samuri, even Matrix Revolutions which is very little about character and even less about realism).

Again, it's refreshing just to see a simple story, unfettered by guns, car chases, or special effects. At just 89 minutes, nobody should have an awful time sitting through this truffle of a film.

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For your collection: The Housekeeper (VHS), The Housekeeper (DVD)

Gooden's Listening to: Pere Ubu, Raygun Suitcase

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