The pleasing sounds of Carmen Maura's whispery Castilian lisp open this 1962-set film about the friendship between a Parisian captain of industry and a group of Spanish maids. But all the words that follow assault the ear in this unnecessary rehashing of the earthy virtues of low-paid laborers versus the stiffness of the bourgeoisie. Third-generation stockbroker Jean-Louis (Fabrice Luchini), husband of brittle, insecure provincial Suzanne (Sandrine Kiberlain) and father of two boarding-school brats, suddenly transforms into an altruist, concerned with the inferior plumbing and other hardships endured by the half-dozen Spanish domestics, refugees from Franco's regime who live above him. Among the sextet is recent arrival María (Natalia Verbeke), who stirs Jean-Louis, her new employer, both with her stories of working 15 hours a day as a teenager at a tobacco factory and her ass. Freed from French fussiness, Jean-Louis loses himself in Iberian pleasures: paella, Malaga, coplas. "Those up there are alive; down here, we're dead," Suzanne remarks to two ladies who lunch as her husband and his pals dance the flamenco. Director Philippe Le Guay, who cowrote the script with Jérôme Tonnerre, has given us a new stock character: the Magical Ibero.
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