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  Romuald et Juliette Cleaning Woman! Cleaning Woman!
Year: 1989
Director: Coline Serreau
Stars: Daniel Auteuil, Firmine Richard, Pierre Vernier, Maxime Leroux, Gilles Privat, Catherine Salviat, Muriel Combeau, Alexandre Basse, Aissatou Bah, Mamadou Bah, Marina M'Boa Ngong, Sambou Tati, Nicolas Serreau, Alain Tretou, Alain Fromager, Isabelle Carré
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: There's trouble ahead for international yoghurt company boss Romuald Blindet (Daniel Auteuil), but he remains unaware of it until it is too late. What he doesn't know is his colleagues are planning a coup by placing him in a position of apparent illegality that he will not be able to extricate himself from, so to all appearances it will look as if he has performed unlawful share trading with his own company, then organised a takeover bid from a rival by lowering the price of those shares when there's an orchestrated food poisoning outbreak traced back to his product. Nobody can save him now...

Hey, wait a second, there may be someone who can: step forward the office cleaning lady Juliette Bonaventure (Firmine Richard in her debut) who happens to have been in the right place at the right time, meaning she has inadvertently eavesdropped on the saboteurs and when things start getting troublesome for her boss, she can intervene. For a good part of the plot, Romuald et Juliette came across as an industrial espionage thriller, only with a more dramatic flavour as not only are his colleagues against him, but one of them is sleeping with his wife (Catherine Salviat) and he has no idea about that, either.

The deck looks stacked against the upper class millionaire and it seems as if he'll lose it all, but Juliette is curiously loyal, apparently only because she doesn't like to see an innocent man go to prison, so an interesting situation develops where she allows her boss to hide out at her small apartment which she shares with her five kids (by five different ex-husbands). Writer and director Coline Serreau had a way with conjuring up memorable concepts for what were at first glance frothy movies as her previous effort 3 Hommes et un Couffin had proven, remade as Three Men and a Baby to great success in Hollywood, and this was no exception. Summarise the storyline and it sounds farfetched and airy-fairy.

But actually watching it is a different matter, as that happy ending was hard won, which makes it surprisingly believable because if the central couple had just waltzed slowly into the sunset from minute one it wouldn't be half as enjoyable. Not so much a film of two halves as one of two thirds plus one third, for most of this we are absorbed by the way Juliette brings about the comeuppance of Romuald's antagonists, a spy in her own right thanks to everyone at the office underestimating her. But Romuald has done that too, and it takes a while for him to realise what a treasure he has in her, feelings which eventually grow into an odd couple romance as the Shakespeare-echoing title indicates.

They come from utterly different worlds, these two, but their point of contact proves beneficial for them both, or it would if Romuald didn't tend to fall back to his blinkered ways, leaving another jolt in his life to make him realise what he's been missing. His existence has been nothing but privileged and he has the money to buy everything he wants; Juliette has had to fight for what she holds precious, and she's keen to keep her children on the straight and narrow which might be difficult in the case of her eldest, teenage Aimé (Sambou Tati), as he becomes involved with drugs. Will Romuald be able to return the huge favour she paid him? The theme of not taking people for granted, especially those who may be saving your skin, was so well depicted that what could have been a resistable dollop of corn turned out to be absolutely charming. Making a heartwarming movie that has really earned that in its audience is a tricky acheivement, Serreau however managed it with skill and a truly romantic nature that didn't cop out. Music by Jérôme Reese.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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