One of the enduring joys of living in France is having French cinema on tap. Sure, they also make brainless, Hollywood-formatted films too, but standard French cinematic fare can range from being merely pleasant to exaltingly life-affirming. I've just come back from seeing one of the latter category: Les femmes du sixième étage (The Women from the Sixth Floor), a story of Spanish maids in Paris in the early 1960's. Anyone who's either been a student or has stayed with shoestring-governed friends in that city will be familiar with this floor composed of maid's rooms, or chambres de bonne; Paris's Hausmannian buildings rarely, if ever, exceeded six floors. Mrs. F and I lived in one for two years quite a few years ago. It was, in fact, three rooms converted into one decent-sized flat, so we weren't actually being that bohemian. Practically everyone we knew, worked with and socialised with lived on the sixth floor, too; it seemed that you couldn't hope to graduate downstairs until you'd really succeeded in your chosen field. And got considerably older, too.
Anyhow, this film featured one of my favourite French actors, Fabrice Luchini; a man capable of adding two or three stars to any production. I could give you a detailed run-down of the plot, but I prefer to just recommend it to you. The fact that Mrs. F is of Spanish descent means I'd already met a lot of the archetypes portrayed in the film, which served to make the whole experience that much more life-like. apart from anything else, it's sobering to remember that the Spanish were treated with as much contempt and suspicion as new arrivals from the Third World are, now. I won't be around in fifty years' time to see whether they've been integrated as well as well as the Iberians, but seeing how halting North African integration has been these last few decades, I wouldn't hold my breath.