Sadly, comic acting is usually overlooked in film awards due to the prejudice that deems laughter to be worthy of suspicion. It’s a particular shame when you come across a performance as subtle and expertly judged down to the very last detail as the one given by France’s Fabrice Luchini in this expertly crafted upstairs-downstairs comedy set in 1962.

Luchini, known locally for comedies such as Molièreand the recent Potiche, plays Jean-Louis, a grumpily middle-aged bourgeois gentleman who takes refuge from his souring wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) by getting to know the Spanish maids who inhabit the top floor of their upscale block. Here he discovers a world he previously had no idea existed, a warren of tiny rooms without even the benefit of running water.

Yet, despite their deprivation, the women (including his new maid’s aunt, played by former Almodovar favourite Carmen Maura) display a spirit of cameraderie he finds life-affirming; the whinger starts to loosen up and discover a sense of joy in his life.

Director and co-writer Philippe Le Guay deploys a gift for wry observation with a deftly understated approach that defuses the danger of triteness and makes the film a satisfying experience.

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