Paris, 1871. Behind the heavy wooden doors of luxury brothel Paradise, we get a peek of the lives of three women living in a world without protections and trying to escape from servitude. Considered an elite institution, Paradise attracts wealthy and often aristocratic clientele in its plush parlours and pleasure rooms. However, behind its veil of sumptuous temptations, Paradise is strictly guarded and governed by the steel hands of its austere owner Madam Hortense (Valerie Karsenti) whose oppressive rules make her girls constantly seek a way out. Created by Jacques Ouaniche and directed by Mabrouk El Mechri, this racy and captivating costume drama reveals the hidden face of prostitution at the end of the 19th century and reignites the debate surrounding the legalisation of brothels in France.
It's extremely rare to see a film, let alone a TV series show us the dark life of a prostitute. That's where 'Maison Close' comes in, which is a French television series that can now be seen in the USA. Several years ago, HBO wanted to remake the show for an American audience, but it never came to be. Probably, because it plays out more like a soap opera than 'Game of Thrones'.
That being said, 'Maison Close' can stand on it's own with its good story lines, characters, and decent doses of melodrama. Oh yeah, and the vast number of rather steamy sex scenes this first season has to offer. Sure, it's rather a niche audience, but this series is worth checking out for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is the use of music. It has a very 'Moulin Rouge' vibe to it whereas 'Maison Close' takes place in the 1800s at a bordello. However, the music featured in the show is a mix of modern rock and pop songs that usually go along with the main plots on screen and their character's emotions. It was rather entertaining.
Again, the series focuses on a bordello known as 'Paradise', which is funny, because it seems to be anything but that. 'Maison Close' is a very female-centric and is mostly about girl-power, even in the 1800s, which makes this show more original, but we follow three lead women throughout the first season. One is Hortense Gaillac (Valerie Karsenti), who is the madam in charge of the bordello, who is struggling to keep her business afloat and must go to her evil big brother for help, but at a not-so-good price. Then there is Vera (Anne Charrier), a veteran prostitute, getting up in years for her line of work, who is looking to retire to a good life, however things prevent her from pursuing this plan. The last main character is Rose (Jemima West), a very naive and innocent woman who is in search of her long lost mother. Rose shows up at the bordello to ask questions about the whereabouts of her mom, and gets sucked into the life of prostitution.
All three characters get enough time to study their backgrounds and their various melodramatic moments, all of which are done very well. There are times when the pacing is a bit slow, but the music and sex scenes tend to keep the overall story at a decent pace. Everyone turns in excellent performances throughout, as we see each character struggle with their identity to become an individual, rather than an object for men to treat badly. 'Maison Close' is a very intriguing show, and I hope to see a US version soon.
'Maison Close: Season One' comes with a very good 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This French TV series looks might good for the most part and was shot digitally overseas. Since the tv series takes place a century or more ago, the lighting has to reflect the time period, hence there's not a ton of bright opulent colors to be seen. In other moments though, colors do seem to pop quite a bit, but not in the sense as a modern TV show set in present day does. In addition, there is a yellowish hue that covers the screen in each episode, taking away some of the natural color.
Detail is mostly vivid and sharp, which was nice in closeups that revealed the period costumes and makeup on the actresses. The background items and set furniture in the bordello look great here as well with very fine detail stands out. Skin tones look natural and the black levels are mostly deep and inky, however there was some minor evidence of some crush. Compression issues are non-existent with the exception of some very small instances of video noise, but it's nothing to write home about, leaving this video presentation with good marks.
This release comes with both a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix and a 2.0 stereo option, both of which are in their original French languages with English subtitles. The biggest highlight of this audio track is the soundtrack. Even though the show is set in the 1800s, the creators used a very modern rock and pop soundtrack to coincide with the story and characters of the show, and these songs come full force through all speakers very nicely. The songs and score sound robust and full consistently.
Other than that, this series is more of a front heavy audio track, but none-the-less sounds very good. Dialogue is always clear and easy to follow along with the English subtitles. There were no instances of any high shrills, pops, cracks, or hiss to not. Sound effects are realistic and well-balanced too. This is not a heavy action series, so don't expect a ton of explosions or gun fire. When the music plays though, the bass kicks in and the low ends sound great. For being a dramatic show with not a lot of action, this audio presentation is fairly good.
Season 2 (HD, 2 Mins.) - Basically a trailer for the second season of the series.
Booklet - Here is a booklet with interviews with the cast and creators, recaps, and photos.
'Maison Close: Season One' is one of those shows I never knew existed, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It wasn't so much for the obvious reason, but because of the solid character development, the attention to detail of the 1800s, and of course the unique soundtrack. The video and audio presentations are both good for this type of show, however there isn't much in the way of extras, which was a let down. This little surprise of a series comes recommended!