House of Tolerance (2011)
At an elegant Parisian bordello at the dawn of the 20th century, exists a cloistered world of pleasure, pain, hope, rivalries, and most of all, slavery.
Life in an elegant Parisian brothel in the early twentieth century. The madam essentially owns the women: their expenses exceed earnings, they are in debt. They face problems of pregnancy, opium, age, and violent clients. One reads sociology at her peril. Occasionally, a client talks of marriage. There are also friendships and affection among the women. The madam is in a dispute with her landlord and calls on influential clients to help. There's a picnic one summer day, a wake, and an evening in masks. Have they expectations? In a coda, we watch a street scene in contemporary Paris.
At the dawn of the 20th century, at Madame Marie-France's elegant Parisian bordello, the Apollonide, exists a cloistered world of pleasure, pain, hope, rivalries, and most of all, slavery. Forever in debt and confined within the brothel's walls, the seemingly pampered courtesans can only dream of a better life and a client who will set them free by accepting to pay off their heavy debts. The girls of the Apollonide have signed up in their own free will; however, as desperation and danger go hand in hand in this house of tolerance, none can say there's pleasure in this profession. Not even Marie-France.
- This claustrophobic picture (aka L'Apollonide Souvenirs de la maison close) is a frank, unexploitative account of life in a smart Parisian brothel in 1899 and 1900. It demonstrates that la belle époque was less belle for the women than for their wealthy clients, though better than walking the streets or working in a sweatshop. The film is superbly designed to suggest the oppressive, hypocritical haut-bourgeois decor, the obsessive eroticism that excludes real desire, and the languorous timelessness that makes one day like another. There is enough detail about money, cosmetics, hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases, theatrical deportment and authentic camaraderie to qualify the film as a kind of documentary. But a final coda offering a glimpse of women working as prostitutes in present-day Paris, waiting in the streets for passing motorists to pick them up, shows that plus ça change, plus c'est le même commerce. The movie's most startling image is of an abused, once beautiful prostitute who imagines her client's sperm turning into tears and flowing from her eyes.