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29 October 2014
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Sex et la cité

BBC FOUR adds a touch a spice as it devotes a week to French related programmes, the highlight of which is a new Storyville – Paris Brothel.

A staggering 200 brothels existed in the centre of Paris in 1939 and Paris Brothel sets out to recreate the opulent and indulgent atmosphere of the time with interviews from prostitutes and their clients, original footage, drawings and stills photography from this bygone era.

In addition to this, a selection of profiles on some of France's most influential figures and a number of French related films will also be on show throughout the week.

André Breton's Naughty Bits explores the world of surrealism as the programme looks at the controversial auction of possessions of the movement's founding father.

BBC FOUR also spends some time in Paris in the company of one of Europe's most notorious figures, Michel Houellebecq, in The Trouble With Michel.

An obscure poet, and recovering psychiatric patient, Michel is celebrated as visionary and genius by some and despised as pornographer and nazi sympathiser by others.

One of France's most enigmatic and extraordinary painters is profiled in Toulouse-Lautrec which looks at how the artist famous for his poster designs in the Moulin Rouge elevated his medium to the realm of high art.

Europe's greatest political Houdini is also thrown under the spotlight in Jacques Chirac – A Very French President which delves into the life of a man whose legacy in recent times has been more often than not tainted with both scandal, inside and outside the political arena.

Running through Sex et la cité week will be a selection of French themed films including the infamous Last Tango In Paris, a film which at its time of release caused a storm and still invokes strong passions today.

Completing the film line-up are Rendezvous in Paris, Le Secret, and Une Liaison Pornographique.

Sex et la cité begins on Monday 23 June 2003.

Programme Information

First broadcast times provided. Some programmes will get further screenings.

Storyville – Paris Brothel

Monday 23 June, 9.30pm

The award-winning documentary strand, Storyville, delves into the unique state-authorised high class brothels of Paris and lays bare the truth behind these 'maisons closes' which served the French cultural and political elite from the days of Napoleon to their closure in 1948.

Picasso, Matisse, Rodin and Magritte all frequented Paris's brothels and drew inspiration from them.

The Surrealists were particularly fascinated by the 'maisons closes' and classic film makers such as Renoir included important brothel scenes in their films.

There were brothels for all tastes, and Paris's Guide Rose, first published in 1922, recommended no fewer than seven establishments, including a famous ecclesiastical brothel catering mostly for priests, where the women dressed up as nuns and each room was decorated with perverted versions of religious images.

Storyville meets clients, prostitutes, policemen, hairdressers and neighbours who visited, worked or lived within the secret world of the Paris bordellos.

Mark Kidel's film makes extensive use of archive, including sometimes bizarre, old pornographic films of the period, and photographs including extraordinarily evocative work by Brassai.

It explores the myths surrounding the Paris bordello as well as the realities of these unique establishments.

André Breton's Naughty Bits

Wednesday 25 June, 9.30pm

For the past few weeks an important event has been unfolding within the confines of the French cultural establishment.

The auction of the legendary art collection of André Breton, founding father of surrealism and national treasure to generations of French men and women.

André Breton came to symbolise French cultural pride despite his eccentric sexual tastes and propensity to shock.

At a time when the need to assert the French national identity has never been more keenly felt, presenter Victoria Coren explores the world of surrealism meeting Breton devotees and other followers of the movement.

The viewpoints of a number of prominent French figures who protested against the sale and the cultural commentators who have been much exercised by the scandal are also laid out.

Over 50,000 people visited the showroom and the auction itself, to encounter the 5,300 surrealist artefacts that Breton acquired during his life: his bizarre erotica and collection of Magrittes, his 'object poems' made from bottles and bits of string and his four foot Pacific island statue, which supposedly inspired his 'art magique'.

The programme manages to track down some of the strangest elements in Breton's collection and explains how through this odd cultural dispute, Surrealism is being reborn in the Paris suburbs.

The Trouble With Michel

Wednesday 25 June, 12.25am

BBC FOUR spends an hour in the company of Michel Houellebecq - Europe's most controversial and dangerous writer – a man who manages to offend just about everyone and who, over the summer, had to go into hiding because of an anti-Islamic outburst during the launch of his new book, just days before September 11.

An obscure poet and recovering psychiatric patient, Houellebecq stormed the European literary scene with Atomised, a uniquely ferocious combination of high ideas and uncompromising pornography.

Celebrated as a visionary and a genius, Houellebecq is also a figure of hate, attacked as a nazi, a pornographer and a provocateur.

BBC FOUR joined Houellebecq in Paris last September for the launch of his third novel, Platforme, where press attention was even more hysterical. The book deals with sex tourism.

The film travels to Ireland where Houellebecq lives with his wife, Marie Pierre, on an island off the remote west coast.

The Trouble With Michel is an intimate portrait of a troubling and troubled cultural figure.

This programme was first shown on BBC FOUR in 2002.


Tuesday 24 June, 9.30pm

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was one of France's most enigmatic and extraordinary painters.

Aristocratic, promiscuous, alcoholic and deformed, Toulouse-Lautrec spent his nights haunting the seedy, yet glamorous, Parisian underworld that influenced and inspired much of his work.

Aged just 36, he died leaving behind a valuable legacy of art work that still resonates in the art world today.

In 1891, Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned to design a poster for the Moulin Rouge, a club he regularly frequented.

The film examines the printing technique used to produce the La Goulue poster which took Paris by storm and established Toulouse-Lautrec's reputation as the foremost poster artist of Paris.

Although he mastered a wide range of artistic techniques, including lithography, oils, watercolours and pastels, Toulouse-Lautrec is more widely celebrated for elevating the poster to the status of high art.

The programme talks to exponents of graphic art about Toulouse-Lautrec's influence and impact on this art medium.

The film also views a series of tribute posters due to appear in an exhibition in Paris in September to commemorate Toulouse-Lautrec's centenary.

Key contributors include Danièle Devynck, chief curator of the Toulouse-Lautrec museum in Albi, France; Madam Tapié de Céleyran, whose grandfather was Toulouse-Lautrec's cousin; Richard Thomson, professor of Fine Art at Edinburgh University and curator of the 1992 Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at The Hayward Gallery; biographer David Sweetman; and graphic artists Anthon Beeke and Dan Fern.

This programme was first shown on BBC Knowledge in 2001.

Jacques Chirac – A Very French President

Thursday 26 June, 11.45pm

Once again Europe's greatest political Houdini has wriggled out of the shackles of scandal and corruption which threatened to derail his re-election.

Chirac - A Very French President is a jaunty and irreverent 40 minute portrait of Chirac, presented by Nick Fraser and filmed over four months before and after his re-election.

It tells the extraordinary story of how Jacques Chirac rose to the pinnacle of power in France, and once there has withstood a welter of financial scandals and damaging innuendo.

In Chirac's electoral heartland, the southern Correze region, we meet his oldest political friend and ally Dr Henri Belcour.

He remembers how the "tall, well dressed, distinguished" young man made his way by dint of his "dynamic allure".

Just outside Ussel, over a lavish dinner, the masonic-looking Brotherhood of the Veal Head (Chirac's favourite food) praise their 'lad' for being a 'man of the people'.

But now the locals in Ussel's marketplace are not so sure. Chirac may be 'sympa' (a nice guy) and sexy but many French people resent the corruption scandals surrounding him.

We meet four key witnesses: Judge Eric Halphen who spent seven years investigating Chirac's role in a huge kickback scandal; Georges Quemar, former head of personnel at the Paris town hall, who alleges that Chirac abused his office to provide hundreds of fake jobs for friends and allies; Arnaud Hamelin (a TV journalist who recorded the now infamous 'Mery' tape - where a key town hall official confessed on camera to having been, in effect, Chirac's bag man; and Didier Schuller, another key Chirac acolyte in the kickback operation who recently returned to France after seven years in hiding.

How then, in the face of a litany of scandals has Chirac been able to survive? Chirac - A Very French President sets out to find out.

Ultimately however there may be a more prosaic, and cultural, explanation.

Driving us around Paris in Chirac's limousine, his chauffeur of 25 years Jean-Claude Laumont gives a rich and intimate account of the personal characteristics and charms of the man running France.

The Producer/Director is Paul Jenkins.

This programme was first shown on BBC FOUR in 2002.


Last Tango In Paris

Monday 23 June, 10.30pm

Starring Marlon Brando Last Tango In Paris follows the stormy affair of two complete strangers.

Jeanne walks the streets of Paris looking for an apartment. Paul is also searching for a new place.

In an abandoned, empty and isolated top floor flat the two meet. Without introductions or small talk the pair begins a heated and passionate affair.

Paul's life is completely overturned when his French wife Rosa commits suicide. Paul, a middle aged American expatriate is devastated and feels his life has ended.

Jeanne on the other hand has her life lay before her. She's a young, beautiful Parisienne and is busy planning her wedding to her fiancé Tom.

The affair is meaningless. There is no love, there are no feelings and they don't even know each other's name. They just have sex.

Marlon Brando as Paul and Maria Schneider as Jeanne successfully portray the contrast between this distant yet intimate relationship.

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, the film shows an isolated side of relationships.

Rendezvous In Paris

Tuesday 24 June, 10.30pm

Eric Rohmer's film set in 1990s Paris is all about love. Divided into three segments the film follows the trials and tribulations of various characters falling in and out of love.

In Rendez-Vous de 7 Heures, Esther thinks her boyfriend may be having an affair. In revenge she arranges to meet a stranger in a café.

Meanwhile a couple walk through the parks of Paris in Les Bancs de Paris. They kiss, they touch, and they talk. But she already has a boyfriend.

In Mere et Enfant 1907, an artist arranges to meet a woman in a café. On his way he passes a beautiful woman and starts following her instead. When they finally speak he discovers that she is already married.

Rohmer sets these encounters in Paris, the city of love. The city has a key role to play in the relationships as Rohmer uses the locations to shape the characters' lives.

The film is full of chance meetings, coincidences, romance and confused hearts.

In this romantic comedy Clara Bellar plays Esther with Antoine Basler as Horace.

Le Secret

Thursday 26 June, 10.00pm

Marie has a secret. It's a secret that haunts. But it's a secret she enjoys and can't live without.

This attractive saleswoman has a comfortable life. She has a good husband and a loving family. But Marie also has needs, needs that her husband cannot fulfil. And so she has a lover. He's American. He's her secret.

Virginie Wagon directs this drama. It shows the agony of Marie's secret and the destruction that infidelity can have on individuals and families.

Anne Coesens plays Marie with Michel Bompoil as Francois and Tony Todd as Bill.

Une Liaison Pornographique

Wednesday 25 June, 10.00pm

Two people share one sexual desire. Through an ad in a sex paper the two meet.

'She' has always wanted to do one thing with a man but never had the courage or met the right person.

'She' is in her 40s and decides that now is the time. 'She' places an ad in the paper. 'She' arranges to meet 'he' in a café and they go to a hotel room together. The door closes.

Now that their affair is over the two recount their affair to an interviewer.

The film never reveals what happens in the hotel room. All that is known is that the two strangers satisfied each other.

They continue to meet, as strangers, to fulfil their shared desire.

Gradually they get to know each other and eventually decide to take the next step and have normal sex.

Une Liaison Pornographique is written by Philippe Blasband.

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