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Respectful Prostitute looks and feels like most American movies of the late 40's and early 50's. The stark difference being the story. It tells of a prostitute from New York who witnesses the murder of a black man by a Senator's son on a train headed to the South. It was made in France and is very critical of America. It reminded me very much of To Kill A Mockingbird, if you replaced that movies naivety with cold cynicism. At first I thought the ending was out of step with the rest of the film, but looking back I realize how perfectly it works with the feel. It is the American ending, and it sheds a last harsh, ironic light on America. 8/10
The late forties/fifties were a time when Sartre's works were often
transferred to the screen .In the space of seven years ,there was "Les
Jeux Sont Faits" by Jean Delannoy "Huis Clos" by Jacqueline Audry and
"La Putain Respectueuse" by Brabant/Pagliero.The three films are
Brabant/Pagliero's film is faithful to the writer's play.It sure was not easy to locate the story in America ,to find an actress in the Gloria Grahame mold and to recreate the riots and the atmosphere of America but they manage quite well.Barbara Laage is convincing and her last scene with the unfortunate black young man very moving.No exit indeed.It's quite possible that Sartre's story was inspired by black writer Richard Wright who took refuge in France .
I checked out The Respectful Prostitute, and heard about it in the
first place, for one reason- that it was the only video I could find,
anywhere for the moment, that had the mark of Jean-Paul Sartre on it.
In the interest of full disclosure, his works have impressed me over
the years, even when the writing becomes dense like in his ontological
studies. His essential principles and ideas concerning existentialism,
free will, being and nothingness, have provoked my thinking and spurred
it on in ways few other philosophers have been able to do, and has even
been an influence via his fiction like The Age of Reason. It was for
this admiration I sought out this ultra rare, low-budget quickie from
France, based on one of Sartre's plays, and decided to check it out.
The final reaction, unlike the other commenter here on IMDb, is that of
a similar admiration for what I've come to expect from Sartre in making
characters fitting the idea of responsibility directly attached to
free-will (Man is only what he makes of himself, he once said), but at
the same time seeing it as a disappointment without a doubt. It's a
shame that a work that should inspire me to want to revisit it, to go
over the crucial dramatic choices these characters make, and of the
suspense in seeing how the racially charged attitudes unfold, is kind
of shoddy and without much depth, at all.
The filmmakers are pushing an agenda, anyway, instead of making it purely a human story, which is veers into from time to time, and even in a powerful moment where the story takes a turn as the prostitute is forced by the Senator to sign a document there's some very bizarre, almost laughable moment when a bust of George Washington *speaks* to her as though it were some booming voice from the heavens. The American south, as it were, is depicted without any sense of there being order or balance, which was probably part of Sartre's original design in his play. And for the period, there is a vital point that is made, at least from time to time, about what it is by making choices in this environment that makes a difference, that it's not all pre-determined by the rule-by-law of the white man against the black man. Not only does the prostitute have to choose between keeping to her stringent, New York common-sense and tell the truth or lying to take the easy way out, she has to be responsible for what she's done once she's signed the paper. Ditto to the senator's son, who- in one of the film's not totally explained terms- changes his mind and upon seeing his black-killing cousin (as the cousin's murder of a black man on a train spurs on the hysteria) and rejects him.
On the front of the questions that are raised, if only in some basic fundamental ways, the film is actually successful and sort of intriguing. But then it comes back to the filmmakers' methods, who ironically are a duo, Charles Brabant and Marcello Pagliero, yet direct as if it's their first time around and have taken a couple of notes from the noir school before abandoning them for just trying to figure out how to shoot the frigging thing (one director had this as his debut, the other had done some documentary work). Although it goes without saying that it takes a lot to get past the English dubbing on the Cinematheque collection VHS tape I watched, and that it would've been strange enough hearing French non-stop in an American setting, the people doing the dub work are not good at giving the proper tones and right characterizations. The woman playing the prostitute, Lizzy McKay, for example, sounds closer to someone like Alice Kramden than a woman who either sings on stage or resorts to working the streets. And some of the accents just sound like put-ons. But aside from this, the film moves along with a bad sense of pace and with little time given to add more nuance to a scene except for unnecessary gestures like filling up a glass or sitting around aimlessly. One shot does become memorable though, when Lizzie is standing by the window in the morning with her robe on, as her pose and the way its shot looks actually sensual in a low-quality way.
Now, to be fair, I haven't read the play that the film's based on either, but it would be somewhat of a fair guess that the filmmakers changed around a good deal, at least with the settings, and maybe beefed up some locations and shots for things. Once or twice they even manage to try and make a scene suspenseful, like when the black guy is running through the shadows to escape the white mob. But the problem too lies in the fact that this only available version is incomplete, so the twenty minutes that were cut out may or may not provide what seems to be sorely lacking here, which seemed to be in abundance when Sarte worked without a net in Age of Reason. Not that I would expect too much on such a budget and barely two-dimensional character scale, though it leaves me as a fan of the original author not feeling the need to revisit this very soon, except for an occasional reference point in conversation. And, in its current state, should only be sought out by the most die-hard of existentialists- and even then, as one might find, it's far from No Exit.
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