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PARIS — A working-class Portuguese couple in Paris have become so indispensable that they’re afraid to tell their employers they’d like to return to their homeland in The Gilded Cage (La Cage dorée), from Franco-Portuguese director Ruben Alves. Though the early part of the film is rife with stereotypes, the rookie filmmaker imaginatively turns his large cast into lively individuals while also exploring the impossible, and yet very real, no-man’s-land situated somewhere between the characters’ adopted and home countries.
A breakout hit at the French box office, where it’s closing in on 1.2 million admissions despite having a no-name (for France) cast, Cage has already set its sights on conquering the rest of the old continent, with releases in Germany (where it will be marketed as Portugal Mon Amour) and Portugal scheduled for August and further sales likely. Stateside, the property is a shoo-in for a Latino remake.
The ever-busy but always friendly Maria (Rita Blanco) works as a concierge at a chic Parisian building, where the Ribeiros live in a small apartment on the ground floor. Her husband, José (Joaquim De Almeida), is a respected construction foreman. Their adult daughter, Paula (Barbara Cabrita), and teenage son, Pedro (Alex Alves Pereira), both still live at home and were either born or arrived as tots in France because they prefer to speak French with each other and rarely even speak Portuguese with their parents.
The matriarch’s melodramatic sibling and fellow émigré, Lourdes (Jacqueline Corado), who’s as vivacious as she is curvaceous, dreams of opening a Portuguese restaurant with Maria, though there’s a sense that Maria, clearly the more pragmatic of the two, goes along with the plans simply to humor her younger sister. Things start to go comically haywire when an unexpected inheritance would make it possible for the Ribeiros to return to Portugal and live comfortably in a beautiful family home.
The simple but clever paradox at the heart of the screenplay — written by the director, producer (and occasional director) Hugo Gélin and Jean-André Yerlès, a former head of the French Writers’ Guild — is that the Ribeiros have worked hard for three decades to provide for their family, but that the result of their efforts, namely that they’ve become completely essential for their employers, actually prevents them from potentially enjoying an early retirement.
Both Maria and Jose can’t quite work up the nerve to broach the subject of their departure with their respective bosses and things get even more complicated when it’s revealed that their beautiful (and unfortunately independent-minded) Paula, a working-class, second-generation immigrant, is secretly dating Charles (Lannick Gautry), the preppy son of Jose’s upper middle-class boss (Roland Giraud).
The cast of characters is huge — Charles’s impulsive, hippie-ish mother; Lourdes’ supposedly ill husband; Pedro’s highschool crush; Paula’s ex-boyfriend or the chichi old lady who’s nominally in charge of the building where Maria works haven’t even been mentioned — but impressively, first-timer Alves never strains to keep all the narrative balls in the air.
Through clever casting and remarkably economical writing, most of the stereotypes are turned into individuals in a quick couple of brushstrokes. And all the actors playing immigrants actually are Portuguese or have Portuguese roots, including Lusophone arthouse darling Blanco, a regular in the films of João Botelho and João Canijo, who earlier played a Portuguese concierge in Paris in Haneke’s decidedly less funny Oscar winner, Amour.
Editor Nassim Gordji Tehrani further interlaces the various storylines through judicious use of crosscutting, which helps bring the parallels and contrasts in the various strands to the surface. André Szankowski’s sun-dappled cinematography is pleasant, and the music and production design stay just on the right side of clichéd.
Production companies: Zazi Films, Pathé, TF1 Films Production, TF1, Canal Plus, Ciné Plus
Cast: Rita Blanco, Joaquim De Almeida, Roland Giraud, Chantal Lauby, Barbara Cabrita, Lannick Gautry, Maria Vieira, Jacqueline Corado, Jean-Pierre Martins, Alex Alves Pereira, Sergio Da Silva, Nicole Croisille
Director: Ruben Alves
Screenwriters: Ruben Alves, Jean-André Yerlès, Hugo Gélin
Producers: Hugo Gélin, Laëtitia Galitzine, Danièle Delorme
Co-producer: Romain Le Grand
Director of photography: André Szankowski
Production Designer: Maamar Ech-Cheikh
Music: Rodrigo Leao
Costume Designer: Isabelle Mathieu
Editor: Nassim Gordji Tehrani
Sales: Pathé International
No rating, 95 minutes
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