“Streetwalking’s a dying art. The johns have lost the urge. The desire’s gone out of it…Look at us. Like lamp posts. We used to sell dreams.”
Not too long ago, I reviewed a very fine film directed by Patrice Leconte in 2000, called The Widow Of Saint-Pierre. Two years after this international production appeared, Leconte has come out with a more intimate effort entitled Rue Des Plaisirs, or Love Street. Apparently Leconte was interested in telling a sentimental love story, one which he had written in collaboration with another French screenwriter, Serge Frydman. The basic story has some potential. It concerns a man known as Little Louis (“Petit Louis”) who was born to a prostitute plying her trade at a Parisian brothel (the Oriental Palace) and then brought up by all the women of the establishment, eventually becoming the place’s handyman as an adult. He falls in love with Marion, a newcomer to the Oriental Palace. Realizing she can never be his, he devotes his life to ensuring her happiness by getting her auditions to become a singer, but more importantly, by seeking out the perfect man to be her husband. He settles on a young fellow named Dimitri Josco who actually seems as though he might be the right man for Marion, except that he is really a small-time crook. When the Parisian brothels are all legislated out of existence soon after the end of the Second World War, Louis, Marion, and Dimitri find themselves on the street and on the run from a local crime boss that Dimitri has double-crossed.
Unfortunately, the film’s execution fails to deliver on the promise of the script’s basic idea, for a variety of reasons. Patrick Timsit is very appealing as the sad-faced Little Louis, but the film is let down by the two other principal players. Laetitia Casta, a well-known international model and cover girl, plays Marion, but as in so many similar instances where models try to prove they can act, she fails to deliver much other than a pretty face and a Brigitte Bardot pout (sometimes mixed with a half-smile). She is unable to stir any concern in us for her character so that we never really care whether she finds the man of her dreams or not. In fact, so unengaged is she and so little appreciative of Little Louis’s efforts that when she ends up with Dimitri, we feel little other than that she deserves what she has gotten. As for Dimitri, he’s basically a small-time loser played here by Vincent Elbaz, whose characterization goes little beyond suggesting a handsome face. Part of the problem in this regard is the fact that the script provides only a rather murky background for Dimitri and then fails to deliver a believable pursuit of him by the crime boss’s henchmen.
Director Leconte doesn’t give any suggestion that he’s greatly inspired by the material, even though he was one of the writers. For what is basically a fairy tale, there’s no sense of narrative pace to the film and the ending is somewhat out of character with the spirit of the rest of the story. Parts of the film do look quite good; there’s some very nice production design for the brothel interiors, and the contrast between those and the dreary street conditions under which the prostitutes are now plying their trade is effective. That’s not enough to rescue the film, however.
Once again, Seville has done a nice job with this Canadian DVD release. There’s a fine 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that looks very sharp without resorting to edge enhancement of any significance. Colours are quite vibrant and flesh tones look natural. There is some loss of shadow detail in the darker scenes that dominate the last half of the film. On the whole, a nice film-like experience, though.
The film is presented in French with optional English sub-titles. Two Dolby Digital audio mixes are offered — 5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo. Both do a good job with what is a dialogue-driven film. Dialogue is clear and the background music has a pleasing dynamic range. The surround mix has little opportunity to shine, with only an occasional usage of the surrounds, although rainfall was effectively evoked at one point in the film.
The supplement package is a surprise in that it includes a 45-minute making-of documentary that is very well done. It includes thorough coverage of how every major component of the film was shot with insightful comments by the director, main cast members, and several others of the crew. It is, in fact, more interesting than the film itself. The drawback for many, however, will be the fact that it is only available in French with no subtitling. A theatrical trailer and trailers for three other Seville releases (Late Marriage, In The Mood For Love, Pandaemonium) are also included.
A fairy tale fumble.