Marion's world is about to fall
apart. The year is 1945; the place is Paris, France. She's a prostitute in the
Oriental Palace, a high-class brothel that's booming with business from men who
want to "buy a dream" to escape from the drudgery and tension of life in the
war years. But the French government has decreed that the brothels are to be
shut down, leaving Marion, and her fellow prostitutes, with an uncertain
The story of Love Street
(Rue des plaisirs) is multi-layered: on one level, it's the story of
Marion (Laetitita Casta), the lovely prostitute who dreams of making something
of her life. It's also the story of Petit Louis (Patrick Timsit), the brothel's
handyman, who is madly in love with Marion and will do anything to make her
happy. In fact, since he doesn't believe that Marion could ever be happy with
him, he devotes himself to finding the one man who truly can make her happy. Love
Street is also the story, on another level, of the three post-1945
streetwalkers who serve as narrators, chorus, and commentators for the story of
Marion and Petit Louis. For them, standing in the rain waiting for their
customers, Marion and Louis are creatures of fable, from a colorful, magical
world that might as well have been a hundred years ago, though in reality it
only a few years have passed.
There's a layer of nostalgic
fantasy to the entire story as told by these three women, which means that
their narrative isn't necessarily entirely reliable. To them, Marion is an
emblem of "one of their own" who made good... but there are hints in what we
see that her fairytale-like vaudeville success may be a gloss added in memory
by her friends, rather than the plain facts. Or the narrators may be telling
the exact truth; but in any case, the story is in many ways a very subjective
one, a legend that the women pass on almost as a talisman to say "it could
happen to me."
Despite the slightly dreamy
elements of the story, the fact remains that it's the tale of a prostitute
trying to make a living in a difficult world; Love Street rests on hard
foundations, and refuses to dodge the thorny issues that come up. Petit Louis
gives everything he's got to find happiness for Marion, but even he ends up
with doubts about what he brings her. Handsome Dmitri Josco (Vincent Elbaz)
appears to be Marion's Prince Charming, but what if he is really a "dark
horse," with dangerous secrets of his own? Love Street is a story about
people desperately grasping for happiness even when it may turn on them... but
at the same time, it suggests that even if her search for love fails, Marion's
life is richer than it would have been if she'd simply accepted the hand she'd
been dealt in life.
Love Street is a very
polished piece, both in the narrative and in the visual presentation of the
film. The narration provided by the three women recounting the story on their
dark, rainy street corner is consistently used throughout the film to enrich
the story of Marion and Petit Louis and to provide a darker frame for the vivid
lives of the characters they're remembering. Petit Louis himself has an
interesting relationship with the audience, as he often acts as a sort of
narrator of his own life, sometimes even addressing the camera. We even see
parts of the film through his own perspective, including his self-image as a
little boy who just wants to take care of one special woman.
Many parts of the film feel
timeless, and overall it's not an aggressively "period" piece; character,
narrative, and cinematography rather than costumes and sets are the main pieces
that make up the effect of the film. Even so, the ambiance of 1945 is an
important part of the film, and it's captured well from the prostitutes'
perspective. They're not concerned with the larger political events taking
place around them, but on the continuance of their livelihood, which is brought
to a halt after the war. Love Street is stylistically reminiscent of Amélie,
with a narrative that's not strictly chronological, elements of playful fantasy
in the presentation of events, and the use of non-naturalistic color and
lighting to help tell the story.
It's interesting to note that
for a film about prostitutes, Love Street is neither erotic nor even
mildly sensual. When we see the brothel's back rooms filled with women in
skimpy negligees getting ready for their evening's work, with Petit Louis
helping them get dressed, it's no more titillating than if it were a locker
room full of women changing from street clothes to work clothes at a factory.
For Marion, sex is a job that she works at, and we get no more than a few
glimpses of her in this role; what she longs for is an emotional connection
rather than a physical one. A simple embrace or a kiss means more in Love
Street than a steamy bed scene in another film.
Love Street is presented
in a rich and attractive 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, preserving the original
aspect ratio; it is anamorphically enhanced. The DVD transfer does an excellent
job of presenting the visual nuances of the film, which makes extensive use of
color and lighting effects to set the mood of the story. Colors in particular
are beautifully handled, from the jewel-like tones of the inside of the brothel
to the blue tint that washes over the early-morning scenes outdoors, evoking a
sense of the still-sleeping city. Much of the film takes place at night or in
dimly-lit rooms, and contrast is handled admirably, so that these scenes look
as rich as their daytime counterparts.
The only defect in the image is
the presence of edge enhancement, which is more apparent in some scenes than in
others. Otherwise, it's a very clean and attractive print. French speakers will
be pleased to know that the English subtitles are optional.
A choice of French Dolby 5.1 or
2.0 is offered for Love Street. The 5.1 track is excellent, offering
natural-sounding voices and a well-balanced, pleasing overall sound experience.
The surround channels are put to good use, with effects like rain, crowds,
bombs falling overhead, and applause all seeming to take place directly around
A 45-minute featurette on the
making of the film is included; it's in French without English subtitles.
Though fairly long, it's mainly a promotional-style piece with ample amounts of
footage from the film. Trailers are also included both for Love Street
and several other films.
The menu presentation is a
model of how a bilingual DVD should be. The first screen offers a choice of a
French-language and an English-language menu; after making the choice of one or
the other, all subsequent menus are in that language. Additionally, the default
settings for the film are logically chosen, so that if you select "play movie"
from the French menu, the default is no subtitles, while if you play the film
from the English menu, English subtitles are the default setting. In either case,
the subtitles are accessible either through the menu or on-the-fly during the
A rich, involving film that's
been given a high-quality transfer onto DVD, Love Street is highly
recommended for both lovers of foreign films and simply anyone who appreciates
a well-crafted, polished drama.