Though not many people in the United States have heard of the steamy French erotic drama, Maison Close, importer, Music Box Films is betting there is a market here for it. Arguably more substantial than the recently released film, Fifty Shades of Grey, Maison Close is a nice mix of style and substance; the Canal + program was nominated for a French Crystal Globe Award in 2011. Despite the critical acclaim, only two seasons of Maison Close were ever produced. The series’ first season is comprised of eight unrated episodes, and is now available separately on either Blu-ray, DVD, or Video on Demand.
Set in a 19th Century French bordello, Maison Close shares some aesthetic similarities with HBO’s recently ended Boardwalk Empire, even though the latter is set around 60 years later. Though the show isn’t focused on politics, 1871 Paris was a turbulent time. The city saw both the rise and fall of the La Commune revolution that year, and the aftermath remained tense. The series title translates to closed house, which is where the majority of the action takes place. The Paradise is a government sanctioned, luxury brothel, and is the home and workplace of the main characters.
Like premium cable shows in the United States, Maison Close is essentially a high-end, adult soap opera. The show centers on the aging star of the bordello, Véra, who is trying to buy her way out of the house. Played by Anne Charrier, she is looking for a way out of The Paradise, but her relationship with the house mistress, makes her escape impossible. Life is not easy for anyone in this world, and even the mistress, Hortense must navigate the treacherous politics of the times. Though she is often the heel, Valérie Karsenti plays the madam expertly, and even at her worst, is relatable.
You can’t have a television show about prostitutes without tackling sex, and there is plenty of it in Maison Close. Surprisingly though, it rarely gratuitous. That being said, it is sometimes violent and disturbing. A main story line follows a young woman, about to be married who goes to The Paradise to find her mother. An unassuming dinner later and she is indentured to the brothel, and her virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder. With no means of escaping her “lawful” situation, she is essentially raped by wealthy and powerful pedophile.
The Maison Close: Season One Blu-ray is presented in 1.33:1 high definition widescreen on two discs. Though the gaslight settings are beautiful, due to the low lighting, there is some visible graininess, despite that, all of the details remain sharp. Rarely tested, the audio is French language 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio, with English subtitles available. The package also contains a small booklet with some photos, and insights into the historical period, as well as the show. Unfortunately, the subtitles, will be a deal breaker for some potential American viewers, though if you’re a fan of quality series, and can handle the subject matter, Maison Close is definitely worth a watch.
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