Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Paris Brothel (2003)

Director: Mark Kidel

Cast: Saskia Portway - Narrator

From the early 19th century 1946 Paris had many brothels that were tolerated and controlled by the state. These were sometimes rough places but more often were housed in richly designed buildings and serviced a clientèle from all walks of life. This documentary looks back at the Paris brothels through photographs, historians as well as memories from some who would frequent them as clients or work there as prostitutes.

Mark Kidel's astonishing film recaptures a lost French tradition. Nowadays it would simply be called sex tourism; but in the 1920s and 30s people did speak about brothels with awe. These were enormous facilities, often with a restaurant conveniently situated downstairs.

Many French women, including Edith Piaf serviced the clientele, which was rich and French, as well as rich and foreign. Of course there were cheaper brothels for working men.

George Orwell's remark that 1930s France was "midway between a museum and a brothel" turns out to have been literally true. But this is a wonderful film because it tells you about the French attitude. What other culture would have the courage or indifference to establish the sex trade at its heart?


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