A Housekeeper Movie Review

I believe Alfred Hitchcock once said that drama was nothing more than real life with the boring bits cut out. The French film A Housekeeper decides to ignore this maxim, and the result is moody, contemplative, and massively boring. It's like watching home movies of a mid-life crisis, only with a musical score and better-looking people.

Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) is a Parisian in his forties who appears to have it all -- successful career, beautiful apartment, and the kind of weathered good looks that younger women find appealing from time to time. However, his life and his apartment are both in disarray. He's in the middle of a separation with his wife, which has probably led to indifference, loneliness, and the inability to run a vacuum or to mop a floor.

Our protagonist fixes one of those problems by hiring a young, nubile, and completely inexperienced maid, Laura (Émilie Dequenne). He likes her work and the apartment is hard to clean, so he asks her to clean the apartment on the days he has off.

It's obvious that Jacques needs the companionship, which is smartly shown in a series of shots where Jacques approaches or longingly looks at a woman before stopping his advances or adjusting his gaze elsewhere. Like Jacques, director/producer/writer Claude Berri (who helmed the memorable Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring) also has trouble completing tasks.

Laura and Jacques (who first, in a huge stretch, become roommates) drift into an inevitable affair, and the movie drifts into a few directions, none of them enlightening or entertaining. Jacques' regretful wife (Catherine Breillat) returns, but nothing comes of it. Jacques and Laura retreat to Brittany for vacation, where he finds out that his friend (Jacques Frantz) slept with the aforementioned wife. That leads to a minor argument and a minor rift with the infatuated Laura, who as character isn't nearly as developed as her feminine assets.

The movie is a series of near conflicts and emotional blow-ups. I'm sure supporters of A Housekeeper will respond with a cinema vérité argument of some kind, praising the movie's noncommittal nature. I can see that, but when that malaise/indifference is infused in the characters, the ball game is over. Inexplicably large chunks of the movie are dedicated to Jacques smoking cigarettes, reading books, listening to jazz and looking pensive. What are we supposed to do with that? The Laura character is so lacking in motivation or depth that we simply can't care about her, or her involvement with Jacques.

Character developments aside there are better ways to highlight adult dissatisfaction, without making the audience livid in the process. In recent movies like The Good Girl or Paul Cox's unjustly ignored Innocence, adult problems were portrayed in a way that made you not only understand the characters' troubles, but made you hungry for what would happen next. A Housekeeper is in mope mode from the first minute and stays there for the duration, dragging everyone down with it, including what has to be a confused, angry audience.

Aka Une femme de ménage and The Housekeeper.


Comments

A Housekeeper Rating

" Terrible "

Rating: R, 2003

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