Saturday, 31 August 2013

Maison Close Series 2 (2012)

A French erotic costume drama set at the end of the nineteenth century, the first series of this Canal Plus co-produced drama concentrated mainly on the lives and adventures of three women - 35 year old Vera (Anne Charrier), brothel madame Hortense (Valerie Karsenti) and young Rose (Jemima West) working in Paradis, a luxury Parisian brothel. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch that yet but that one-line synopsis was enough to get me up and running with Arrow’s new Blu-ray and DVD release of the second series, which recently premiered on the Sky Arts channel here in the UK.
Paradis is now being run by Vera, Hortense and the other girls as a kind of collective. But things don’t stay that way for long. Pressure from the Paris Vice Squad led by Commisaire Torcy (Sebastien Libessart) means that the girls are soon looking for a new ‘protector’ and investor. This arrives in the form of young, flamboyant, cocaine-addicted gangster Louis Mosca (Michael Cohen) who, in return for his money and strong-arm services, is allowed to establish his headquarters inside the brothel. The subsequent troubles that ensue as a result of this forms the basis of the plotlines for the eight episodes of this second series.
I had no expectations whatsoever of MAISON CLOSE and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by it. For a costume drama this is every bit as gorgeous as anything produced by the BBC (and often quite a bit more so). The photography is lush, and some of the visual compositions (especially the location work) are so outstanding they could be hanging in the Louvre. Production and costume design is of a similarly high standard and acting is fine all round, with the strong female roles outweighing the men, but only just.
What really made MAISON CLOSE work for me, and thus its justification for it being covered here, is that it’s a terrific combination of gangster thriller, Western, and it just happens to have a load of deliriously weird sexy stuff thrown in as well. One of the girls isn’t a prostitute at all, but the wife of a local businessman who likes to watch her with ‘clients’, but only if she’s wearing the weird steel mask that she never takes off. In episode five there’s a terrific Western-style gun battle in the brothel between rivals gangs, but only after one of the girls has appeared dressed up as a nun on wheels (for some reason). By the end of the series we’ve been witness to more violence than you can shake a bloodstained crystal ashtray at, as well as the usual soap opera standbys of unwanted pregnancies, drug addiction and syphilis thrown in for good measure, all played out against a backdrop of brewing political and social upheaval. 
      There’s a bizarre and anachronistic touch with the music score, which ranges from classical influences through 1920s dance music, to modern drum and bass, all used in a similar way to that employed by movies like Brian Helgeland’s A KNIGHT’S TALE. While I thought it worked well in Helgeland’s film, I found it distracting in MAISON CLOSE, but that’s the only complaint I really have about this. Violent, sexy and beautifully shot, MAISON CLOSE feels a bit like SCARFACE in 19th century France and is definitely worth a look if you don’t mind subtitles. (And if you do you probably stopped coming here ages ago.) Apart from the eight episodes and a subtitles on/off options Arrow's discs are strictly bare bones, but considering how much nudity there is on display in the programme itself, that's feels weirdly appropriate.

Arrow Films released MAISON CLOSE SERIES 2 on Blu-ray and DVD on 26th August 2013

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