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Select Hotel Review

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★★★★★

Select Hotel is a flophouse, a place where people can rent rooms on a daily basis. It's inhabited by beggars, prostitutes, the mentally unhinged and others who have little hope and little aim beyond scraping together enough money to pay for a room for the next 24 hours. One of the rooms is rented by Nat (Gayet), a prostitute, and her brother Tof (Fete), both in their 20s and controlled by Denis (Marc Andreoni), a small-time drug dealer who offers Tof a bit of driving work and Nat a few dodgy clients, one of whom performs monstrous acts for his kicks. So vulnerable and naive in their methods of survival, Nat and Tof drift powerlessly towards inevitable destruction, cruelly guided by Denis and watched with uneasy fascination by shopkeeper Pierre (Blumental).

Initially adopting the somewhat disconcerting vox pop style of a TV documentary, director Bouhnik immediately suggests a reality of situation and characters, all of whom introduce themselves, explain why they are at the hotel, and talk of their hopes for the future - which are simply to survive another day and maybe have the luck to change the direction their lives are taking. In the narrative which follows, Bouhnik adopts a raw, almost home-video style, with erratic lighting and twitching camera, to observe his protagonists, revealing without sentimentality the bare truth of life without hope.

The problem is it's almost too real, there is no let-up. The few light moments add pathos rather than offer relief, and the overall sense is one of pure tragedy, climaxing in a shocking and literally breathtaking final scene. Hardly a comfortable night at the pictures, this is an extraordinarily powerful but utterly draining piece of cinema.