Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. USA, 1978. Paramount Pictures. Story by Polly Platt, Louis Malle, Screenplay by Polly Platt. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist. Produced by Louis Malle. Production Design by Trevor Williams. Film Editing by Suzanne Fenn. Academy Awards 1978. Cannes Film Festival 1978.
Brooke Shields has spent all her twelve years growing up in a World War I-era New Orleans brothel, her mother (Susan Sarandon) a seasoned professional who has just given birth to her second child. Given that Shields is a beauty before having even reached puberty, it’s no surprise that the madam of the house is grooming her for success in the business, her youthful virginal status making her a prize to the highest bidder. Entering this seedy world of upended values is a seemingly decent photographer (Keith Carradine) who has come to make a study of these women and finds himself immediately drawn to the young lady: her corruption that has made her see sex purely as a financial transaction in which she is the commodity is appalling to him, but her childlike innocence (and the fiery selfishness that comes with it) makes her appealing, the sweltering atmosphere of Sin City contributing to the breaking down of codes that even the strongest man cannot resist. While the situations these characters find themselves in will seem appalling to many viewers (it really does push boundaries when it comes to the uncomfortable subject of children and sexuality), the care and detail with which it is filmed by director Louis Malle are amazing to behold. The story moves in fits and starts but atmosphere rages rich, while the dispelling of myths of the good old days (America was a land where business took over all other human considerations from the start), is presented at its most raw and provocative. Shields provides all the charisma and charm that the role requires, while the supporting cast (which also includes Barbara Steele and the marvelous Diana Scarwid) and exquisite period details round out the experience.