Pretty Things (2001)

“Her body is a fabulous playground for sexual bullshit artists.”

pretty thingsThe French film Pretty Things (Les Jolies Choses) from director Gilles Paquet-Brenner features the talented Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose) as twin sisters Lucie and Marie. In this study of identity and corruption, and the price of fame, the film begins with Lucie narrating as she describes her early days in Paris. After leaving home, she is homeless and penniless on the streets of Paris. Turning to prostitution she tunes out emotionally from her experiences while determined to break into the entertainment world.

Fast forward a few years. Lucie has a gig to sing in a club, but since she can’t sing a note, her homely sister, Marie sings in her place. The club owner is startled by “Lucie’s” appearance. He expected a Madonna-esque sex symbol and instead he gets an introverted lump with a “grunge” look. But “Lucie” knocks everyone out with the power of her voice.

Even though Lucie and Marie are identical twins, they are total opposites. With deep-seated resentments that stem back into childhood, their personalities have developed quite differently. While risk-taker Lucie will do whatever it takes to get to the top–and this includes selling her body, Marie, who’s tense, abrasive, and reclusive seems to possess principles and ideals. But when Marie assumes Lucie’s life, it appears that the two sisters are not really that dissimilar after all. And Marie finds herself falling down the rabbit hole of fame into a lifestyle of easy sex and an abundance of drugs.

In a knockout performance, Cotillard manages to convince us that these two sisters whose lives are each defined by the other’s existence, share the same drive and the same ambition; it’s just that they found alternate methods for expression and personalities that seemed to fit their outlook. But while Lucie and Marie at first appear to be total opposites, over time the film reveals that they are strikingly similar, and that perhaps Marie’s rejection of all her sister stands for is based on jealousy and envy more than real principles. This is a character-driven drama that examines the price of fame in a glamorous world in which principles are eroded by hollow sensationalism, and where talent comes second to a willingness to sell yourself for a contract. Marie discovers that she’s not as principled as she once thought, and when offered the chance to step into her sister’s shoes, she grabs it without question.

In spite of the fact that both sisters are horribly flawed human beings, they both remain sympathetic characters. Lucie became a prostitute to survive, but even while she surrendered her body, she maintained an inner core that remained intact and unassailable. Marie fails to see that she needs to keep part of herself out of the mire that surrounds her, but when she’s knocked down, she comes back fighting, and I really had to admire her toughness. If you liked the film Almost Famous, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this riveting French drama. The film is based on the book by Virginie Despentes–the author of a number of novels including the highly controversial Baise-Moi (and this title can be translated as Fuck Me although it was screened in some places as Rape Me), and some hail Despentes as a new type of feminist writer. After watching Pretty Things, I’d have to agree.

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