An exploration of Paris’ ‘maison close’, the unique state-authorised, high-class brothels that Napoleon set up and which existed until 1948. Mark Kidel’s astonishing film recaptures a lost French tradition. Nowadays it would simply be called sex tourism; but in the 1920s and 30s people did speak about brothels with awe. These were enormous facilities, often with a restaurant conveniently situated downstairs.
Of course there were cheaper brothels for working men. George Orwell’s remark that 1930s France was “midway between a museum and a brothel” turns out to have been literally true. But this is a wonderful film because it tells you about the French attitude. What other culture would have the courage or indifference to establish the sex trade at its heart?