Love Street (Rue des Plaisirs) Review
Paris, 1945. Two prostitutes tell a new girl the story of Marion, the one who escaped from the life on the streets to become a big music-hall star. Marion (Laetitia Casta) has grand designs and aims to become a famous singer and fall in love with the man of her dreams. Little Louis (Patrick Timsit) who looks after the girls in the brothel is madly in love with her, but like Cyrano de Bergerac, knows his appearance prevents him from being the handsome, romantic ideal she is looking for, so out of his love for her he will try and find her Mr Right. Unfortunately she falls for Dimitri (Vincent Elbaz), a smuggler, black-marketeer and thief who is constantly on the run from a Romanian crime syndicate, and their affair threatens to destroy Marion’s chances of being a successful singer.
Being set mainly in a brothel, Love Street (Rue des Plaisirs) is not exactly family viewing despite the Canadian ‘G’ certificate, but there is not really much here to offend anyone. The eroticism is limited to lace petticoats, silk stockings and straps falling off shoulders. Laetitia Casta is beautifully photogenic, fitting in with a film that is not going to be any more a strain on the eyes than it is on the brain. Principally a model, she nevertheless also acquits herself pretty well as an actress and as a singer here, being charming and very natural. Timsit, judging from the ‘making of’ featurette, is a very funny character who is somewhat underused in the role of Little Louis.
The bittersweet romantic storyline is typical of Patrice Leconte. If you haven’t liked earlier Leconte films then this film isn’t going to change your mind. Love Street recalls characters and situations from earlier Leconte films – a subtle hint of eroticism (Le Parfum D’Yvonne), the mismatched lovers (Monsieur Hire, The Hairdresser’s Husband, The Girl On The Bridge) and a free-wheeling, unrealistic storyline (um... any Leconte really). Yet, the world of Patrice Leconte is a comfortable and assured one. With no serious purpose or sense of realism the film is simple entertainment, yet just unconventional enough to escape easy categorisation and consequently sometimes even escape an audience. In his native France, Leconte often receives a rough ride from the press and Love Street was critically mauled by the French press on its release last year. Leconte’s reputation is better outside of France, but recently his success has been on the wane with no UK distribution for either Félix et Lola (2000) or Love Street (2002), although he has been picked up again in the UK with the release of L’Homme du Train (2002) and Confidences Trop Intimes (2004).
Leconte has several great strengths as a director however and they are clearly evident here. First is his evocation of mood and place. The details of brothel life in 1940’s Paris are probably hopelessly romanticised, but it feels right, and it conveys the atmosphere and the warmth the director is trying to create. Second is the skill and pace with which the director moves the story along – using a conventional touch of a narrator, but using a slightly unconventional device where the characters sometimes step out of the picture and interact with the narrator. The director also makes use of manipulated colour, falsely aged film stock, tints and clearly false looking sets and effects (in the manner of Moulin Rouge), all with no real apparent purpose other than for the sake of variety and to keep the viewer’s interest. He manages to do this however without becoming intrusive and over-shadowing the narrative the way Moulin Rouge did. Leconte knows how to tell a story, knows how to engage the viewer and he does so with apparently effortless ease. Add to all this the beautiful photography of Eduardo Serra and the typical haunting signature theme song (the old Maurice Chevalier song 'C’était écrit' is a killer) and you have all the tried and trusted elements that, for me, always make a Patrice Leconte film worth a viewing.
The DVD reviewed is the Canadian Region 1 release from Séville. There is currently no equivalent US R1 release of the film. The Canadian release has a reversible French/English cover (Rue des Plaisirs/Love Street), which some people like - although I can’t think why anyone would object to a French film with French on the cover – and dual French/English menus. The film is 86 minutes long and not the 95 mins listed on the cover. There is a 46 minute making of featurette on the extras which is not mentioned on the French cover. There is a French R2 release of the film available with a few additional extras including a director’s commentary and a DTS soundtrack, but there are no English subtitles on the film or extras. This Canadian release has English subtitles for the film only.
The picture quality is superb. Most French directors prefer the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but Leconte nearly always uses the 2.35:1 ratio and he uses it well. The picture is handsomely transferred here in anamorphic widescreen. There is not a flaw in the print and generally the picture is clear and sharp, but it appears that the film has been transferred from a PAL source, resulting in some blurring whenever there is sudden movement on the screen and a lack of sharpness in freeze-frame. I noticed this same problem on the Seville release of Beijing Bicycle. Obviously, it is not the ideal way to source a transfer, but the overall quality remains good and any problems that this causes is minimal.
The film comes with an excellent Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack which uses the surrounds effectively, capturing warmth and atmosphere. A French Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is also provided, although this isn’t quite as good with voices being too prominent in the mix. It is loud and over-bearing and has none of the subtlety of the 5.1 mix.
The ‘Making of’ featurette is presented in 1.85:1 letterbox in French without any subtitles. It’s a lengthy look at the behind the scenes of the film with interviews with Leconte, Casta, Timsit and Elbaz. Leconte talks about the characters, the selection of the cast and what attracted him to make the film. He is clearly very enthusiastic about his film-making and is very hands-on, operating the camera during the filming of many of the scenes here. No-one really has anything of great interest to say about the film. The film’s idea is simple and sentimental and Timsit confirms that his character could be summed up in a sentence (a simple man in a small world with great love to give to one person). The music director is interviewed and we are shown the recording sessions for the music. Overall though this is much too long for this particular film, which doesn’t really need all this background information and supplementary material. The only other extras are the theatrical trailer and trailers for other Séville titles.
In the end the story is slight, it has no great depth or message and the characterisation is paper-thin, but Leconte knows how to make this work and has been developing this style for decades receiving none of the success or acclaim accorded to Amélie or Moulin Rouge. This is harmless fun and romance expertly put on the screen by a capable director.