Pretty Baby [1978]

A semi-scandal upon its release in 1978, this Louis Malle film is set in a turn-of-the-century, New Orleans bordello and focuses on a girl named Violet (then-child actress Brooke Shields) whose imminent twelfth birthday signals her "readiness" to become a career prostitute. Typical of Malle, the outwardly forbidden nature of the story and relationships within are morally obscured by the immediate experiences and unqualified urges of the characters. The little heroine brings a distinctly youthful and innocent view to the milieu, and the introduction of a photographer (Keith Carradine)--who eventually marries Violet--in the brothel carries the suggestion that there is art and beauty to be explored there. Susan Sarandon is beguiling as Violet's mother, who seems to unfold in the cameraman's presence. The film moves a little stiffly, a little slowly, possibly from a heavy emphasis on period art direction and Sven Nykvist's moody if gorgeous photography. --Tom Keogh

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