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Palm Pictures presents
The Housekeeper (2002)

"You have to become a pro. You have to vacuum."
- Jacques (Jean-Pierre Bacri)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: December 09, 2003

Stars: Jean-Pierre Bacri, Emilie Dequenne
Director: Claude Berri

MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity and brief language
Run Time: 01h:25m:53s
Release Date: November 11, 2003
UPC: 031398104629
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It's never a good idea to start sleeping with the help. Dealing with the domestic staff isn't exactly the subject of The Housekeeper, a modestly entertaining recent French romantic comedy; but the movie isn't really chock full of belly laughs, so it may leave you pondering the different mores between their side of the Atlantic and ours.

Jean-Pierre Bacri plays Jacques, a record producer who, at midlife, finds himself newly single, as his wife has left him for another man. His Paris apartment is taking a decided turn for the worse, so he responds to a flier posted in the neighborhood—Laura (Emilie Dequenne) is looking for work, and cleaning other people's homes seems as good an idea as any. She starts cleaning for Jacques one day a week, and then a second; he accidentally on purpose finds himself around his apartment when Laura is there, and when she has a bad offscreen breakup with her roommate, Jacques agrees to let her stay with him.

This being a French movie, what was supposed to be a couple of nights on the pullout couch turns into a May/December romance of sorts—Jacques has a good twenty years on Laura, but he's jilted, she's working out some issues, and soon they're sleeping together. There are obvious contrasts between them besides their ages, too—she blasts rap, he soothes himself to Brahms; she wants kids, he doesn't. The movie charts the course of their relationship, and what you think of them as a couple will probably mirror what you think of this as a movie. She's in her twenties, so we're safely out of American Beauty/Lolita territory; still, they're not a textbook perfect match, and we are (deliberately) not always rooting for them to stay together.

Claude Berri's film is full of smart little details, like Jacques cleaning up before Laura comes over for the first time—he doesn't want to seem like too much of a pig; it's also full of stereotypically French bits of business, from Jacques spending a good amount of time shopping for just the right baguette to Laura spending a disproportionate amount of onscreen time topless. They're actually a pretty winning pair of characters, and the lead actors bring great humanity and realism to their parts. Dequenne is particularly good—you never quite get why she's so drawn to Jacques (which is why the movie sometimes lacks dramatic propulsion), but she takes what could be a wisp of a part on the page and makes Laura a full, fleshed-out human.

You're likely to have more knowing smiles than great big laughs at this movie. It's a relief when Jacques and Laura road trip to Brittany, because in the first hour or so, there's a growing sense of claustrophobia, as almost everything happens in Jacques' relatively small apartment. It's a little too closed in for a movie set in the City of Lights, and every now and again it starts to feel like a dirty old man's fantasy, his idea of what a young woman should be: that is, sexy and irresistibly attracted to him. Most young women I know aren't even remotely like that—but then, isn't that what the movies are for?

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This DVD has some serious transfer cooties—it's full of debris and dust, and while the original cinematography looks all right, it's been done some dirt on this disc.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track is marginally more atmospheric—honking horns and lapping waves fill up the surround speakers—but the 2.0 track is certainly sufficient for the dialogue-driven film, especially for non-Francophones.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Demonlover, Morvern Callar, The Director's Label series
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:46m:37s

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD credits
Extras Review: Filmographies are for Bacri, Dequenne, and Berri; weblinks are to sites for Palm Pictures and res.com. The DVD case promises a making-of featurette, but it's nowhere to be found on the disc itself.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

A modestly charming romantic comedy, that may be unintentionally more revealing about the male psyche at midlife than its auteur would care to admit.


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