Actors: Valerie Karsenti, Anne Charrier, Jemima West, Catherine Hosmalin
Director: Jacques Ouaniche
Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Music Box Films
Release Date: January 27, 2015
Run Time: 480 minutes
The greatest mistake made in marketing this French costume drama is the misrepresentation of what can be expected. Sex sells, so it is hardly a surprise that this is the element of the series which has been embellished in attempts to get American audiences to become viewers, but this is not the type of series to indulge in the exploitation of its actresses. Instead, this is a show which exposes the poor treatment of the unfortunate women who were once in this position, exposing the real-life drama rather than catering to the campier elements that the marketing team contradictorily uses as a selling point. Although sex is at the center of the storyline, it is all in service of the narrative and with far less nudity than one might expect from a French series about a bordello.
Taking place in a government owned Parisian brothel shortly after the end of the Franco-Prussian War, we enter into the despair-filled occupation through the eyes of a young girl tricked into the lifestyle through debt. Rose (Jemima West) enters The Paradise seeking her mother, but the virgin is trapped by the scheming mistress of the house, Madam Hortense Gaillac (Valérie Karsenti), as a way to revitalize the brothel’s business. Hortense simultaneously makes it impossible for aging prostitute Vera (Anne Charrier) to leave for a coveted position as mistress of the wealthy Baron Du Plessis.
The is much the situation that the women of The Paradise find themselves in; trapped by their situation and unable to find a way to dig themselves out. Rose quickly realizes that her only chance at escape is by becoming the best at what she does, and seeks to use these skills to get out before her beauty fades. Much of the series simply involves the day-to-day survival of these girls, as their lives consist of little outside of The Paradise. Rose uses her unfortunate situation to seek out answers about her mother, as well as planning her escape.
The first season includes eight hour-long episodes. Although the second season already aired in 2013, I suppose we will have to see how well this collection does before finding out if the rest will also be given a Region 1 release. They seem to have an above-average level of confidence in the show, releasing it on Blu-ray with a tasteful box set that includes a collector’s booklet insert with production notes, photos, interviews, and more. If only the marketing department weren’t trying to convince consumers that this is a companion piece to the trash cinema based on the trash novel that is 50 Shades of Grey. This is a far more sophisticated piece of entertainment, and one that doesn’t attempt to sensationalize the degradation of women.
Entertainment Value: 5.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 5/10
Special Features: 3/10