Sweeping French period crime drama Paris Police 1905 (Studio Canal) now available in the U.S. and Canada on MHz Choice!


The Dialectics of Despair Writ Large: Depravity & Dissipation; Disenfranchisement & Demoralization

The critically-acclaimed series Paris Police 1900 by creator/writer Fabien Nury is a searing and powerful indictment of the world’s oldest hatred and its aftermath – anti-Semitism – culminating in the Dreyfus Affair.  

Paris Police 1905 – the follow-up series to Paris Police 1900 – takes place five years later. In this season, Fabien Nury and co-writer Xavier Dorison dissect the consequences of the world’s oldest profession – prostitution – exposing homosexuality and pederasty, the consumption of drugs and alcohol, and ancillary forms of exploitation including blackmail, extortion and pornography along with their aftermath: jealousy, murder, disease (namely syphilis) and infant mortality.  

Brecht Goyvaerts’ chiaroscuro cinematography, heightened by Javier Navarrete’s elegiac music, depicts the waning years of the Belle Epoque, forcing us to look at its ugly underbelly as it becomes more visible in the decline of the aristocracy and the ascent of the bourgeoisie. 

Julien Despaux’s steady and inspired direction illustrates the deeply-mired class conflict in stinging scenes detailing mass unemployment and poverty, the rise of slums and organized crime (Apaches*; bande a Bonnot), and all manners of vice and venality. Throughout the six episodes, the government-appointed Prefect of the Paris Police Louis Lepine (Marc Barbe) implements his radical vision of police procedures and methodology in an attempt to reign in the underclass (victims of circumstances beyond their control) through more stringent rules of conduct and repression without empathy and legal redress or moral latitude (saturated with a strong dose of misogyny). It is in this context we meet the marginalized and demoralized Rosalie Dantremont (Pauline Briand), a young mother who is arrested while trying to buy medicine for her sick infant after curfew because she’s registered as a prostitute by the police. At the same time, in the Bois de Boulogne, Inspector Antoine Jouin (Jeremie Laheurte) is called upon to investigate a murder. The consequences of these two seemingly unrelated crimes will haunt Lepine and put Jouin’s future in jeopardy.    

After the death of Lepine’s wife, his daughter Louise (Mathilde Weil) wants to become her father’s aide and confidante. Adolphe (Francois Raison) and Marguerite (Evelyne Brochu) Steinheil prosper through gambling (especially roulette) under the guise of Adolphe’s painting exhibits with the protection of Marguerite’s lover — Lepine. Disgraced former police officer, Joseph Fiersi (Thibaut Evrard) is her ‘fixer’ in all matters – personal and professional. 

Jouin’s dogged investigation turns up a link between the two-year old unsolved murder of a young man and the recent murder near the Chateau de Bagatelle. Although Jouin is disliked by his colleagues, Chief Superintendent Cochefert (Alexandre Trocki) knows that he is a good and honest officer whom he must, nevertheless, suspend because of an accusation of homosexuality. With Fiersi’s help, Jouin uncovers unexpected crimes and motives, unholy complicities and collusions.     

Sadly, Lepine finally realizes that he was largely responsible for many tragedies on the boulevards of broken dreams in a morally corrupt age when he chose to protect the institutions hiding the vices and follies of those in power rather than to protect the legal and moral rights of individuals. 

The Real History of Paris Police 1905 

For most societies, industrialization opened the door to change – both good and bad. As the Industrial Revolution swept across Europe, France expanded its infrastructure (railways, canals and waterways, roads) under the Freycinet Plan to counter the economic stagnation and to facilitate the national and international transportation of goods (manufactured products, raw materials, foodstuffs). Rural areas saw increased agricultural modernization with a strong emphasis on foreign colonies producing coffee, sugar, tropical fruits and slaves. Under the Third Republic, a severe economic downturn, debt default, wine blight and low wages led to unionization and women working outside the home empowered by the birth of the automobile and bicycle industries. Also coming to the fore were technological (motion pictures), commercial and artistic (Ballets Rousses) innovations.  

The Renault** brothers – Louis, Marcel and Fernand – launched France’s automobile industry in 1899. By improving the 1898 Renault Voiturette with their engine in 1903, Renault became profitable in 1905. Using a fleet of taxis as military transport in WWI enabled them to sell taxis in London while becoming the best-selling foreign car in NY (1907-08) and France’s leading car manufacturer. Motoring became a popular and affordable pastime as well as a leading cause of accidents.      

The arts and sciences flourished and coexisted within the Parisian metropolis of murder and marginalization. Art Nouveau dominateed interior design, jewelry (Lalique), glassware (Lalique, Majorelle) and graphic arts (Mucha); architecture by Henri Guimard (Metro stations, apartment buildings, Hotel Guimard and church-Eglise de St. Jean de Montmartre); and department stores (Galeries Lafayette, La Samaritain). The Musee d’Orsay houses an extensive collection of furniture, paintings and sculptures from this period. Paul Cesar Helleu*** was one such artist: the painter, pastel artist, etcher and designer became famous for his portraits of beautiful society women as well as actress Sarah Bernhardt and dancer Loie Fuller. Art patron, dancer and actress Ida Rubinstein was also a noted Belle Epoque beauty. Actress and singer, Mistinguett, and singer Anna Thibaud were well-known entertainers. 

Posters – the popular and affordable art form — were used to sell bicycles, beverages, medication, gardening tools, entertainment (Moulin Rouge, Folies Bergere) and French tourism.  

The dominant art movement – Fauvism — included the following painters: Matisse, Derain, Braque, Marquet and de Vlaminck whose works caused a sensation at the 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition and influenced the Post-Impressionists Cezanne, Gauguin, Seurat, Vuillard, Van Gogh and Rousseau.  

During the Belle Epoque and les Annees folles, Paris became the world capital of ‘Haute Couture.’ The well-known couturiers included Charles Frederick Worth, Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, Jeanne Paquin (the first female fashion designer), Louise Cheruit and the Callot sisters, whose clothes were sold at Henri Bendel in NY.    

In the field of Belles Lettres, Proust chronicled ‘la vie quotidienne’ of the beau monde in a series of psychologically probing novels of experience and innocence, effete narcissists and cynical aesthetes. His contemporary, Colette — actress, journalist, novelist and proto-feminist is justifiably acclaimed for her trenchant and unequivocal portraits of women in various strata of society. By 1905, she had already published five novels.  

Scientists Pierre and Marie Curie won several Nobel Prizes for their pioneering work in physics and chemistry.


*Jacques Becker’s 1952 film, “Casque d’Or” is based on the real love triangle between a prostitute and members of the Apache gang. Other cinematic highlights about the Apaches include the following silent films: “Les Vampires” (1915) and Emilio Ghioni’s “The Grey Rats” (1918); “The Dark Souls;” (1916) and “Dollars and Dinner Jackets” (1919). 

**The Renault AK90CV driven by Ferenc Szisz won the 1906 Grand Prix and placed fifth in the 1905 Gordon Bennett Cup. Renault competed in the Vanderbilt Cup (NY) with Victor Hemery driving. Alexander Darracq won the race and founded his eponymous motor vehicles company in 1896 with aero engines. Darracq sold his Gladiator bicycle factory in 1897 to produce the Millet motorcycle. In a joint venture, Darracq and Adam Opel (the German sewing machine and bicycle manufacturer) produced automobiles. 

***In NY, Helleu is well-known for designing the Night Sky Constellation mural at Grand Central Terminal.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We happily discovered Dr. Pearl Brandwein while reviewing MHz Choice subscriber feedback on our programs and, after reading a half dozen or so of Dr. Brandwein’s insightful reviews, all of us here at MHz Choice had the same thought: We need to get the good doctor to write for us! Enjoy! -MHz Choice

About the author:
A lover of Romance languages and cultures, Dr. Pearl Brandwein has a Certificate in French Culture and Civilization from the Sorbonne. She then earned both her Masters’ degree in French Language/Literature and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from New York University. Dr. Brandwein’s areas of academic expertise include the Renaissance and the Faust Figure in European Literature in addition to 19th and 20th Century Drama. Her other interests include writing about Holocaust Literature.

Dr. Brandwein began her teaching career at Princeton University followed by faculty positions at other academic institutions. In addition to French, she has also taught German, Latin, English Composition and ESL to corporate executives. After academia, she held numerous positions in the public and private sectors working as an Editor/Instructor/Administrator and as a PR professional and business communications executive directing editorial and marketing initiatives for EU clients.

She is a cineaste and a lover of Film Noir, Westerns and foreign films as well as a theatre and opera buff; she also attends concerts, lectures, ballet performances, museum and gallery exhibitions. In her rare spare time, she reads voraciously.


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