The Gilded Cage (M)
Rita Blanco, Joaquim de Almeida
DIRECTOR RUBEN ALVES
The Gilded Cage has its moments of sly satire about immigrants, family, social class and working life.
REVIEW RON BANKS
Tell a Parisian that you're a Portuguese immigrant and the response is likely to be: "Really? Do you know a good plumber?" The joke is an indicator that the Portuguese in Paris are regarded as firmly among the tradespeople and the working class. Not too many high-fliers but lots of hard workers from a solid, reliable ethnic minority.
Maria and Jose fit the picture perfectly. They've been in Paris for 30 years, having fled Portugal for a better life, raising their family in an apartment block where Maria is the concierge.
She has become indispensable to the owner, a demanding boss who calls on Maria for a 24-hour service.
Jose, a building foreman, has become similarly indispensable to his employer when taking on new projects in the Paris construction industry.
Director Ruben Alves modelled his characters on his own parents, yet the dramatic arc of this heartfelt comedy is the sudden inheritance that is dangled before Maria and Jose from the will of Jose's brother.
The catch is that the family will need to return to live in Portugal and run the family vineyard.
Not such a bad prospect for Maria and Jose who, like many Portuguese, have always longed to return home one day.
Their problem, however, is on two fronts: their children Paula and Pedro have known only life in Paris and are not keen to start again in Portugal, while as parents they have become so enmeshed in their jobs that they feel it would be desertion to leave. How these tricky circumstances play out is the substance of this family comedy which is enriched, or perhaps diverted, by a cast of quirky family and friends who unwittingly complicate matters.
Underlying much of the comedy, and its admittedly sentimental treatment, is the issue of class in French society. The daughter Paula, a vibrant young lawyer, has attracted the attention of the son of her father's boss and love soon blossoms. The French boss and his wife, however, have no bother with this arrangement and there is much comic material and misunderstandings about the two families from across the class divide getting together for a dinner party (echoes of Meet the Fokkers).
But daughter Paula is the most uncomfortable with her parents' working- class diligence and acceptance of their inferior social status, urging them to become more independent and not kow-tow to their bosses so much.
The scenes where Maria and Jose try to throw off their stereotyping and rebel against their bosses is perhaps the least convincing of the comic scenes that Alves has crafted into his film.
Nonetheless, The Gilded Cage has its moments of sly satire about immigrants, family, social class and working life among decent, honourable people. Perhaps that is why the film has proved so popular, both in Paris and Lisbon; the characters are the salt of the earth who seem to deserve the prospect of good fortune.
Its most interesting aspect is the notion of how people become defined by the idea of loyalty and the desire to work. It's not terribly fashionable in some quarters but has enough nostalgic appeal to sweep an audience up in its embrace.
The performances are great, especially from Portuguese actors Rita Blanco and Joaquim de Almeida.
Blanco, who has the careworn look of a caretaker with too much responsibility, is nevertheless dignified and appealing.
The Gilded Cage is the kind of film that goes down well on the film festival lawns with a summer picnic hamper and a glass of wine.