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'The Housekeeper'

Romance gets messy in 'The Housekeeper'

Friday, September 05, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The state of Jacques' apartment would send a neat freak running -- screaming -- through the streets of Paris. The bed is unmade, books and tapes are tossed like scatter rugs, and the kitchen is littered with bottles and vegetables that seem to have been abandoned mid-chop.

 
 

'The Housekeeper'

RATING: Unrated but R in nature for nudity

STARRING: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Emilie Dequenne

DIRECTOR: Claude Berri

   
 

In "The Housekeeper," the physical disarray and confusion match the sound engineer's mental state; his wife left him a half-year earlier, and he seems drained of energy and the ability to enjoy life. Among his friends is a depressed middle-aged woman named Claire whose mate left her and who considers a bartender in their regular haunt lucky because he's widowed instead of divorced.

Things take a turn for the better when Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri) responds to a coffee-shop ad: "Young woman seeks housekeeping work." He hires Laura (Emilie Dequenne) -- a pretty twentysomething who has never cleaned for a living but is sure she'll like it -- and she puts his apartment in order. Soon, she's coming two days a week and when she confides that a breakup is about to leave her homeless, Jacques offers to let her stay at his place for a few days.

Laura likes to listen to loud techno or rap music when she works and relax with silly comedies on TV, while Jacques prefers soothing classical or jazz music while reading about Dostoevsky. But before you can say May-December romance, Laura is creeping out of the bedroom and making overtures to Jacques, who chivalrously has taken the couch.

Soon, Laura (a needy, speedy girl when it comes to relationships) is declaring her love, talking about children and vowing she'll wait for Jacques to love her. That's just one complication in Jacques' life as he must decide who -- and what -- he wants, and if his wishes and desires match hers.

"The Housekeeper," directed by Claude Berri and based on a novel by Christian Oster, is like an appetizer that's quite tasty but not satisfying enough for an entire meal. The characters in this 90-minute subtitled film seem to have been scripted in shorthand: Middle-aged man given a new chance at love, or lust, with a young tootsie; sexy young woman who needs to fall in love; wife looking for chance to repair shattered marriage; and various friends who have been stung by loss or are becoming increasingly eccentric in their habits.

A life-threatening episode at the end, which can be taken literally and figuratively, is a bit ambiguous but not as much as some French films of late. At roughly 90 minutes, "The Housekeeper" seems slight and underdeveloped, especially coming from the director of the richly realized "Jean de Florette" and "Manon of the Spring."

Or maybe I just couldn't get over the idea of an average-looking 52-year-old man with a woman to the left of him and a woman to the right of him. But this is France -- and today's society, after all.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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