Over the last decade, America has enjoyed the brothel antics found on HBO’s Cathouse. The reality show gives an inside view of life inside a legal brothel outside Reno, Nevada. There a joyful fun to the carnal antics of the ladies that work for Dennis Hof. That show makes being a hooker appear to be a fun job. Maison Close: Season One is a French TV series that goes to arty and sadistic extremes of the harsh life inside a Parisian brothel in the 19th Century.
Paris in 1871 is a rather rough place. The Paris Commune had been destroyed and the communardes are being hunted down. For those who barely know French history, you might want to read the booklet that comes with the boxset to get a primer on the era. The gentlemen that visit the Paradise brothel are the movers and shakers of the time. This house of ill repute is the nexus of sex, art and politics. These men of power explore their most craven desires with the working girls. They don’t have to worry about limits once the door is shut and money is exchanged.
You’d imagine running a brothel would be a great way to just mint money, but Madam Hortense Gaillac (Valérie Karsenti) has cash issues. She owes a lot to a local hoodlum. He’s rather cruel in his ways to make sure she keeps up her payments. She lives in fear of what’s to come if her patrons pay more with favors than francs. Veteran hooker Vera (Anne Charrier) is approaching “retirement” time. While she’s still keeping up her bookings, she knows her body can’t take too much. Her 401K is hopes that her favorite client will want to rescue her from the life and marry her. But is he really going to hook up with a hooker?
The big story is a sweet young girl named Rose (Jemima West). She arrives outside the brothel thinking that her mother is working inside. She accepts the invitation of an artist to attend a fancy party inside the Paradise. Little does she know that this is a trap. Her mother isn’t part of the crew. Worse is that she’s stuck with an outrageous bill. Turns out that only the artist was given the freebie. She can’t afford the price. The police give her a choice: prison or work off her bill at the brothel. The police complicate the choice further by threatening to kill someone she knows since that person might be a communarde. Thus she chooses the brothel instead of turning this show into L’orange est la nouvelle noire: The Early Years. Rose quickly gets all the attention since she’s a virgin. There’s a lot of important men eager to pay for the honor of being the first. She’s really not into her new career and attempts to deny the lucky client his prize. Things get extremely rough for her. The house can’t afford her to not be their new star. There’s a lot of guys who like getting extra rough with the hookers. Fair treatment of hookers because a rallying cry within the whorehouse.
The eight episodes season is as extreme and explicit as one would hope from a French pay channel series. There’s little teased in the show. You’re not going to watch this with your aunt who thinks Mike and Molly is sinful. This is for those who swear 50 Shades of Grey is for the timid. The series does have a modern sense to the atmosphere. There’s throbbing club music in the scenes to add to the debauchery in the brothel. HBO is trying to do an American version, but you need to experience it in the original French. No need to lose anything in translation. Ultimately Maison Close reminds viewers at how much better hookers have it in 21st Century Nevada versus 19th Century France.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the elegant nature of Paradise and the ladies inside. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio in 5.1 and 2.0. Both selections are in French. The subtitles are in English. Fans of binge watching TV shows might have to take it easy if they can’t speak French. Subtitle read does take a bit of energy during a marathon viewing.
Booklet puts the series in historical context.
Maison Close: Season One is engrossing journey into a 19th century French brothel. Little is held back in a place where all desires are available for a price.
Music Box Films presents Maison Close: Season One. Starring: Valérie Karsenti, Jemima West, Anne Charrier, Catherine Hosmalin and Clémence Bretécher. Boxset Contents: 8 episodes on 2 Discs. Rated: Unrated. Released: January 27, 2015.
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