There's much to like about Laetitia Casta; she's pretty much the only supermodel who consistently has main roles in her movies (even Elle Macpherson's biggest fans have to admit she doesn't really deserve the prominent billing she often gets), and she's an appealing and stunning woman as well. True, she's not going to be winning any Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscars) in the near future, but then again Tom Selleck once won an Emmy. "Rue des Plaisirs" was a box office underachiever in France, and while you can see why it's not the curvaceous Laetitia's fault. In fact, it's not even a bad movie - just an underpowered one.
Patrice Leconte's movie starts with three prostitutes plying their trade on a slow, rainy night in Paris - with nothing coming their way, one of them tells the other two about another hooker who actually did make something of her life... cue flashbacks to 1945, and the ladies of a brothel taking care of the son of one of their own, who grows up to continue working there as the handyman (Patrick Timsit), but when he sees the newest arrival (La Casta, still gorgeous with shortened black hair), he falls for her on the spot. Rather than try his luck with her, he tries to make her happy in other ways, namely by playing Cupid. The man he eventually matches the romantic young prostitute with, however, isn't quite as perfect as he'd wish.
"Rue des Plaisirs" doesn't glamourise prostitution (it avoids any easy humour about being the only man in a houseful of women, and the scenes of Laetitia's character in action aren't shot for eroticism at all), but it also short-changes the people - the main characters aren't really that developed, and it's fairly passionless at first despite the title and the setting, but the movie does improve as it goes along; you never really love it, but you can like it.
It doesn't really work overall, and you do wonder how the women who narrate know everything that happens, but there are plenty of bits to enjoy - Timsit's sympathetic performance as Louis, a man whose devotion to a woman he'll never have is touching to behold; the montage of women raising money to help the couple (literally a matter of life and death); the big-screen singing debut of Laetitia, whose character uses music as one release; the '40s soundtrack... the movie has lots to like, but in the end it falls short. It's probably because there's not enough emotion in the tale, or maybe because in the closing stages we get a wonderfully shot but profoundly sad ending which ultimately renders the movie a bummer. (The original script for "Pretty Woman," another love story about a prostitute, also had a downbeat finish - but not as downbeat as this movie's.)
But give Laetitia Casta credit for stretching herself on screen instead of being content to play The Girlfriend; and at least she can act (Kate Moss, please note). I'd like to see her in an English-language movie or in something set in the present day, but Casta fans should still check this out - like they need me to tell them that. Now if only someone would put out a subtitled version of "La Bicyclette Bleue"...
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