With Jean Genet’s apparent approval, Joe Strick and Ben Maddow have eliminated the play’s obscene language (though it’s still plenty rough) and clarified some of its obscurations. The result is a tough, vivid and dispassionate fantasy.
This is never an easy film to watch, but also it is never boring or pretentious, and often it is acidly funny. Most of the action of the film, localed in an unnamed city in the throes of a bloody revolution, takes place in a highly special kind of brothel, equipped like a movie studio with sets, costumes, rear projection devices etc, which permit the patrons to enact their darkest fantasies (they can also pay with credit cards).
Presiding over the macabre revels is Shelley Winters, the madame who designs the illusions and is all the more ominous for her complete, almost tender detachment. The peace of the brothel is shattered with the arrival of the police chief, Peter Falk, the madame’s occasional lover who is fighting a last ditch stand outside to destroy the revolution.
Strick and Maddow have provided this fantastic film with its own reality. It is never capricious nor purposefully obscure, proceeding always with a recognizable logic. It is full of chilling detail and knife-sharp scenes, as when the police chief harangues the populace via radio from the brothel, speaking a furious jargon of nonsensical political and TV commercial cliches.
The performances are excellent, beginning with those of Winters, Falk and Lee Grant, and including the entire supporting cast.
1963: Nomination: B&W Cinematography