House of Tolerance (2011) Poster

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8/10
Darkness and sadness within Paris
FrenchEddieFelson27 March 2019
A dozen young prostitutes in a luxury brothel held by a madam, at the twilight of the nineteenth century. We may see women scarcely dressed, men from the Parisian bourgeoisie, champagne in abundance, a black panther, ... within felted lounges. Objects of fascination, fantasies or sometimes the tenderness of their customers, these young prostitutes circulate in a universe that will soon be a memory. One of them will be disfigured by a consumer as perverse as sadistic.

Filmed with a breathtaking mastery of the frame. Moreover, the costumes and sets are top. It's an aesthetic shock. The actresses and actors are excellent, Céline Sallette especially.
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So-so picture of life in a Paris brothel c. 1900
genet-127 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"House of Tolerance" opens with a scene that typifies the film. A gentlemanly client of L'Appollonide, the fictional Paris brothel of the 1890s where the film is set, declines sex with the exotic and likable Madeleine, but requests she instead describe one of her dreams. After she recounts a fantasy of sex with a masked man that ends with her weeping tears of semen, he politely asks permission to tie her to the bed. One she's helpless, he slashes both her cheeks with a knife,leaving her with a permanently disfiguring grin.

In a real-life Paris bordello like Le Chabanais, the establishment that inspired L'Appollonide, Madeleine would have been turned out. Instead, the other prostitutes and its kindly madame, hearts of gold all, rally to protect her. She becomes the house's cook, minds the children, and even, as "The Woman who Laughs", continues to attract jaded aesthetes excited by deformity. In one of the film's more Sadeian scenes, she stars at an orgy involving aging aristocrats, a staff of female servants, all nude, and a sullen black-gowned dwarf.

We see one of the obligatory fortnightly health checks required by the police, and the system of paying the women; clients buy tokens, which the women cash in at the end of the night. Such realism clashes with a Visconti-esque sumptuousness in costumes and decor. The house itself is palatial compared to Le Chabanais, or any real brothel, and the women more attractive than the habitués of even the most elegant establishment.

The film often feels like an anthology, shuffling together episodes and individuals associated with the brothel culture, and not bothering too much about anachronisms. An idyllic country picnic and skinny-dip for the girls evokes the most humanizing of whorehouse stories, Maupassant's "Le Maison Tellier". A client, called only Gustave and content to spend his time in the brothel staring raptly at vaginas, suggests Gustave Courbet, who painted "The Origin of the World", a meticulous but faceless depiction of female pudenda. Courbet, however,died in 1877, well before the period of the film.

Bonello is closer to his time period when he shows a girl being bathed in champagne. The then-Prince of Wales, Victoria's son and later Edward VII, liked to sit around such a bath at Le Chabanais and share the wine with friends. Wine, water and secretions mix promiscuously in the film. In an early scene, whores and clients share champagne from a gilded chamber pot of what should be Sevres porcelain but resembles anodized aluminum. Meanwhile, the girls play a table game using the squirt bulbs normally employed to flush their vaginas. Repeatedly we see women rinsing their mouths after oral sex and washing the sticky residue of wine from their bodies. One woman observes bitterly, "this place stinks of champagne and sperm."

Bonello is at pains to insist on the moral and emotional superiority of the prostitutes over their sentimental, self-absorbed clients – something even the men concede. As one ruefully confesses, "men have secrets, but no mystery." Even Gustave, the most compassionate of the regulars, sees the women as objects. The complaisant Pauline dresses up for him, first in a Japanese kimono, then as a blank-eyed, jerkily moving doll. In a scene reminiscent of Donald Sutherland coupling with a clockwork woman in "Fellini Casanova", her impersonation of a machine excites Gustave in a way flesh and blood never did. As he penetrates her from behind, she stares expressionless at us, the audience, as if to ask, "How like you me now, my masters?"

Returning repeatedly to the mutilation of Madeleine, adding more graphic detail each time, Bonello makes us complicit in her pain. Her endurance and acceptance, like that of all the prostitutes, is transcendental, and appears a kind of martyrdom – an offering to the Apollo for which the house is named. The girl dead of syphilis, the opium addict, and, finally, all the women dumped on the streets when the brothel closes down, have suffered and died for our sins. The last shot of the film drives home the point. Beside a modern highway, the same girls who staffed the L'Appollonide, now in mini-skirts and hot pants, continue to offer sex and salvation to an indifferent male world.
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8/10
Beautiful and real
cherryredpinup29 January 2012
I loved this film, I am surprised to see more than one review damning the film for a lack of plot. There is most definitely a plot it's subtle and thoughtful but the characters all have an arc and, for some, very definite resolutions.

The cast are superb, even those with the smallest roles present fully rounded individuals of whom it's possible to infer their lives outside the bounded world presented to us. The relationships between the women of the house both amongst themselves and with their clients are rich and true.

Although full of sex and sexuality nothing is gratuitous or titillating but real and honest. Sometimes good, sometimes dreadful, sometimes funny, sometimes a violation.

This was a film that I would have been happy to watch for another two hours , I didn't want to leave these women behind.
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7/10
An unusually thoughtful and sobering look at the lives of a group of women trapped in the trade of satisfying men's sexual desires
moviexclusive24 April 2012
No matter the titillating title, writer/director Bertrand Bonello's 'House of Pleasures' doesn't hope to pleasure its audience by pandering to their baser instincts through a flesh parade of its predominantly female cast. Instead, Bonello mounts a sombre look at the daily lives and routines of the prostitutes within the walls of the Appolonide, an upmarket Paris brothel for middle-class men at the turn of the 19th century. The pace is slow and languid- consider this fair warning for less patient viewers- but if you allow it, the movie will reel you in with its hypnotic charm and leave you wondering about the people behind the world's oldest profession.

Filmed with a deliberate dispassion throughout, Bonello flits from one character to another, never making one the central figure in the movie. Among those we get to recognise are Clotilde (Celine Sallette), a twelve-year veteran of the trade at just 28 years old who has recently grown increasingly disillusioned and dependent on opium; Pauline (Iliana Zabeth), the youngest at just 16 who enters the trade in a misguided attempt at asserting her own independence; and the middle-aged Madam (Noémie Lvovsky) who runs the house faced with foreclosure due to rising rent prices.

Yes, Appolonide is far from a cocoon for the girls, and Bonello places two stark characters as a sobering reminder of that- the first in the form of a cheerful girl Julie (Jasmine Trinca) who discovers one day during a routine medical examination that she has syphilis; and the second in Madeleine (Alice Barnole), who is permanently disfigured when a client (Laurent Lacotte) she dreams of having a future with ties her to the bed and slashes her from both corners of the mouth. Madeleine is the most blatant Bonello gets at eliciting his audience's empathy for these women- and certainly, it's hard not to be moved when she is nicknamed 'The Woman Who Laughs' and becomes no more than an object of fascination for others to gawk at.

Notwithstanding Madeleine's misfortune, there is little to cheer about for any of the other girls trapped with little hope of escaping their circumstance. Though visited by regulars with sweet words and buoyant promises, there is little illusion that none of these men are serious about their affections for the ladies they frequent, using them as mere vessels to act out their fantasies- one girl is made to act like a mechanical doll; while another is dressed in a kimono and asked to speak Japanese even though she knows not the language. We know better than to believe their lies and empty promises, but who can blame some of the ladies for being optimistic- what else after all do they have to live for?

Setting most of the film within the four walls of the Appolonide and emphasising the day in and day our rituals of the women within adds to the claustrophobic feel of the movie, which of course reinforces the cheerless nature of their situation- there is also a reference to the conventional wisdom of the day, which equates their status to that of criminals by virtue of the size of their heads. The rare scene where the girls have the most fun is a daytime excursion they take to the countryside, which unsurprisingly shows them at their most lively and vivacious.

And indeed, there is very little to cheer or find pleasure in- despite the movie's title- once one has observed the lives of these women in the Appolonide. The film is also purposefully set at the twilight of the industry in that form, and from time to time, Bonello hints at the imminent passing of a Parisian cultural icon. His parting shot is that of modern-day Paris, where prostitutes are standing by the street waiting for some random guy in a car to pick them up. Has society progressed in the past century? As long as there remain women who are stuck in the circumstance as those in the Appolonide, the answer quite honestly is a sobering no.

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9/10
Gorgeous and Dark
maurice_8424 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This film is physically gorgeous and the content is hideous. Some reviews here have said that the nudity of the women is "boring" (because it is not used to provoke the audience's sexual response, but rather to reinforce the women's place as "objects"?) and another found the film soporific because of its slow pace, repeated images, and lack of "action." What was needed? A carriage chase (since car chases wouldn't have been possible), or perhaps a daring robbery? In fact,the slow pace of the film reiterates the slow death of the women. The fact that some of the reviewers complain that the film doesn't contextualize the story enough only speaks to our general lack of education about history or the world beyond our own i-pods and pads. Only in the 20th century do most women begin to achieve "rights" and freedoms (and at great cost). And that century is only beginning at the end of this film. For that matter, the film's ending--in contemporary Paris at the historic site of the brothel--implies that those rights and freedoms are easily erased for some.

For those who want more action (slashing someone's face is apparently not enough), this film will disappoint. For anyone who is interested in the history of the era and this aspect of Parisian (and European) life, it's a must see. All the slow scenes in the brothel with "gentlemen" clients and prostitutes are framed during the same period as the Dreyfus case, the beginning of the decline of French power and prestige. This film shows the darker side of much that is revealed in Proust's work (which is, after all, rather dark itself). It is definitely a disturbing film, but worth seeing.The women actors works wonderfully together, and the production values are impressive.
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8/10
Serious and complex film
pour_la-paix12 February 2012
This is a serious and complex film. It takes the audience out of their comfort zone. Not everyone will understand the film. The film is about women that may have no other choice but to sell their bodies, about freaks that buy their bodies, about these women's inability to pay off their so called "debt", about cruelty, about general stigma that surrounds these women. All of the women in the story's brothel are regular girls that have no one to turn to for help, but possibly each other. The reference to the pseudo "study" that one idiot sites in the film, the choice of music, the way the film ends - all help to make the audience think about the film and its story not as something from the past, but as issues that continue on and the reasons (society maybe) behind these issues.
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9/10
When the God is Money
shatguintruo30 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
L'Apollonide Again the French film gives us images that will last forever in our memory. The director Bertrand Bonelle supported by a cast of first category (Céline Sallette, Alice Barnole and Noémie Lvovsky) can bring the characters closer all the sadness and rare moments of joy of prostitutes living in a French brothel in the late nineteenth century. Using the metaphorical language of colors used by painters of the classic era of Peter Paul Rubens what the film gives us is several times (especially one in which the screen splits and some scenes are momentarily frozen) of pure visual delight. What else comes to our notice is the character (Madeleine, "the Jew" who has his face disfigured by a stupid frequenter of the house of tolerance that is intended to be the owner of that "lump of flesh" designed used only for their selfish and despicable pleasure , undergoes the humiliation of being tied up in bed, taken by the illusion that eventually will be sought in marriage, without realizing what is before one be worse than a an irrational animal. At times it is impossible not to compare this film with another: Belle DE Jour. Occurs in this case the character played by Catherine Deneuve seeks the house of Madame, is to see his true sexuality while in L'Apollonide, the characters work to get rid of slavery being laundresses, maids. Vibrant film that will be forever in the minds of those who attend. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give 9 (excellent)
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8/10
I can highly tolerate this indeed.
PeterMitchell-506-5643645 December 2012
This is one of the best films of 2012. When it hits ex rental, this is one I'm definitely buying. It's a highly erotic period piece movie, that is ultimate viewing. It's a hypnotic film of this upper class french brothel in the last months 0f 1899. Some of our beauties are being sold to other brothels, others are leaving the business, where the remaining are facing a far worse fate, when health checks come into play, nearing the film's final. The last scene is kind of a teaser, showing what brothels are like today. The acting is bloody impressive from all, it's lavish sets, and wardrobe, adds to it's tasty viewing. We even have a sixteen year old, starting, a virgin, one of her first, double minded, about going with her. He finally does, here she ends up losing it in a champagne bath, later washing all the icky ailment off. This lass's interview with the madam that has her stripping off totally, then letting her hair loose, is very hot indeed. We do too have that one dangerous customer (it's always the quiet ones) who leaves a scarring impression on one of the prostitutes, by slitting the corners of her mouth open, where she now wears a joker kind of smile, 24-7 and has now resorted to mainly working as a housemaid. Some of the client's requests, are as you can guess, out of the ordinary, one girl pretending to be a robotic doll, where a handsome young french man comes up behind her, lifts up her dress and you know. At the the start of this somewhat bizarre scene's, where he's lying down, staring across at her, if transfixed, somewhat playing the role too, is an unforgettable image. The dialogue in subtitle is smart and original. A truly hypnotic movie experience, this is one those films that comes along every so often, a rare gem, a rare treat to the naked eyes. Highly recommended, especially for lovers of foreign erotica.
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9/10
Poetic, unique, sad and haunting film
runamokprods11 November 2014
This takes place in a Paris brothel just before and just after the start of the 20th century. While there is a lot of nudity and sex, the film is almost always anti-erotic, as it is so clear that the women are less than enthusiastic participants. Interestingly, I found the only moments with any erotic charge were moments between the women themselves, who support each other in what amounts to indentured servitude. Occasionally we feel the heat of human connection between them in a look, a touch, and that is far more sensual than anything they share with their clients, which is often degrading, and occasionally violent.

The film is a look at the trap poor women found themselves in, when being a prostitute was one of the only ways to make your own money, and other professions had just as many drawbacks (one woman speaks of giving up being a washer-woman because her lungs were becoming damaged from breathing ammonia all day). But the irony is, the 'expenses' of being a well kept prostitute (from room and board to perfume) are more than the women can take in, so they inevitably fall deeper and deeper into debt. Like sharecroppers, they soon 'owe their soul to the company store'.

This isn't a naturalistic film in the usual sense. It jumps around in time – something we sometimes only realize because we'll see a moment we'd watched earlier happen a second time, but in this case from a new perspective or in a new context. It's 'slow' by our usual standards, and is less about plot than about captured moments that build to something larger. It also uses anachronistic, modern music to great effect. But for all it's intentional artifice, there is a feeling of an honest sort of hyper-reality here. In the same way a poem can capture the feeling of a sunny day better than a lot of scientific explanation, so too does this poetic film capture a complex and sad world in a way that lets you feel a sense of understanding and empathy more than straight forward naturalism might.

The film-making itself is of a very high order. The cinematography and acting are both first rate, and there is a sequence near the end that combined acting, images and music to give me chills in the rare way sequences by great film-makers can sometimes do. Not every choice works, but this is a bold, challenging and emotional film. It doesn't tell you what to think, it just creates a world, invites you inside and allows you to draw your own conclusions. I suspect I will get even more from it on a second viewing.
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10/10
Didn't think I'd like it, highly recommend it
clarkdm6422 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I'm giving this a 10 because not only was the costuming excellent, the set (even in one house) was well done with period artwork and decor. It had a story: the bond between these woman. It had subtleties as to where the story was headed (watch for falling rose petals) It had a message: prostitution, whether in a fancy brothel or on a street.corner in the modern day, often is hard emotionally on the woman. The physical dangers, depression, and even drug use occurs regardless of the century. Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but it comes with the oldest pitfalls. (Not a spoiler as it is mentioned in the plot summary): By switching to a cut of a young girl getting out of a car in modern day Paris and joining the other working girls on the street corner...the message, or moral of the story was neatly tied together. The movie wasn't about the sex; it was about the progression killing these girls, from the inside out.
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4/10
I want my 2 hours back.
gozu16 October 2011
There is no plot - only a stream of images following prostitutes in a bordello. The cinematography is OK and there are many realistic depictions of the female body but the overall result was oh-so-dull.

There is no plot, the editing looks like it was done randomly, the continuity is tenuous, the characters are boring.

I suffered through the whole movie. I'm giving it 4 stars because I did chuckle 4 times and I suppose it could have been worse somehow. I now feel a profound resentment for the director and the writer(s). What a bunch of self-indulgent jerks. Even Michael Bay does better movies! Michael Bay! Ugh!

Don't watch this. I stayed in the movie theater in the hopes the ending would somehow redeem it and because I was with friends.

They both strongly disliked it by the way.
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4/10
Naked women can be boring
Felix-2820 March 2012
I wouldn't have believed it, but it's true.

Beautiful naked women parade around the screen for just over two hours. And yet it is just plain tedious.

Nothing happens in this film. It's unrelievedly gloomy, the girls are all depressed, none of them like sex, and the men all want to do bizarre things with them.

We don't learn much about many of the girls.

We learn little or nothing about the legal or social system in which the maison close operated, i.e., what was legal and what was not.

I really do not understand what the point of the film was.

Avoid it.
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6/10
Historically Accurate Portrayal of Legalized Prostitution
VickiHopkins4 May 2014
This movie is a graphically shocking film about prostitution in France in a mansion of tolerance. It's French ("L'Apollonide") with English sub-titles.

Having researched heavily on this subject for one of my own works, I found it to be an eye-opening film. It's an intimate look behind the closed doors of a house of pleasure focusing on the lives of its mistress, prostitutes, and patrons.

It covers such aspects as registering as prostitutes with the Bureau of Morales, being indebted to mistresses and unable to leave their employ because of it, champagne baths with customers, selection parlors, global fashions worn by prostitutes, opulent client bedrooms, and the regulated visits by the physician examining the workers every 15 days for sign of sexually transmitted disease.

The movie contains naked women, sexually explicit scenes, and is not for the prudish or faint of heart. There are scenes of abuse of one of the girls, which may be disturbing to viewers. It delves honestly into the reality of life as a French prostitute, focusing on the sad and hopeless plight of women in brothels. The particular establishment depicted in this movie catered to aristocrats and rich businessmen, much like the Chabanais, which was one of the well-known brothels of its day.

The movie is two hours, slow moving, and not the best flick you'll ever see. Most of the sexual scenes show the men enjoying their paid visits, while the women merely go through the motions void of emotion. As troubling as the scenes were, I found myself transported into the world I researched and came away shocked at seeing the reality portrayed on screen.

Let's face it, being a prostitute wasn't glamorous. It was a profession that many poor and unskilled women chose in order to survive. It was a dangerous job where women died of syphilis, lived lives with no hope, and sold their bodies in order to eat and have housing. It portrayed a society that found pleasure in sex, living a way of life where brothels were an acceptable form of male entertainment until they were abolished in the early 20th century.

If historical films interest you on all levels, I can attest that this one hits the mark in every way. Being a French film, it adequately portrays the heyday of legalized prostitution.
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5/10
Brothel Creepers
writers_reign3 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
It's difficult to determine the target audience for this entry, if indeed there is one. There is one short scene involving full frontal nudity but this involves an applicant for a job in the brothel displaying her body for the madam so that there is no erotic content whatsoever. Elsewhere there are liberal helpings of naked breasts but again with a palpable lack of eroticism so we can rule out the dirty mac brigade. Bonello - who has something of a penchant for making films with a sexual content - Tiresia, The Pornographer - seems almost to be making a documentary recording life in a maison close during the years 1899-1900. This was, of course, the era known as the Belle Epoque but instead of rich, sumptuous colours, Bonello gives us muted, even drab colour photography and perversely shows us a girl with a tattoo - in 1899? - and introduces raucous rock music which clashes totally with the mood which verges on the serene - clearly Baz Luhrmann has a lot to answer for. With the exception of Moemie Chomsvsky, herself a gifted director and fine actress, as the madam, the cast is more or less unknown and appear to have been selected on the basis that they have (presumably) 19th century faces. By definition anyone who actually remembered the year 1899 would be around 120 today so there is no one to say Bonello hasn't got it right which still leaves the question, why bother.
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3/10
Best to steer clear of this artsy storyless snoozefest
georgegates22 March 2012
Here's what you need to know. - Film: looks like crap and looks to be analog in times of RED, Canon 5D/7D, Arri and Phantom camera systems. See "Drive", la casa muda,Celda 211, and Nokas for what that translates to - Cinematography: OK, nothing outstanding, novel or revolutionary, no noteworthy scenes whatsoever (noteworthy: e.g. jumping through window scene in "Ajeosso") - all-out artsy director, which automatically precludes a liking of a majority audience - boring dialogue / no characters to relate to - some intentional scares, just for the sake of selling the movie. - there is no great storyline.

NOTHING HAPPENS IN THIS FLICK!

In other words no scenes have any subtle meaning which is referenced, resolved and intertwined with later parts of the movie - and let's face it, with 100.000 feature films released each year you don't want to invest your viewing time in mediocrity.

Thankfully I turned off after 40minutes

Verdict: Avoid
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3/10
Waste of time
ammoncrossette16 January 2014
This movie is boring! It's one of those movies that seems like it will get better and turn around at the very next scene, but that never happens. It just drags on with no dialogue, no character development, and really nothing worth waiting for. Everything is suggested, drama included. If ever there was a 'nothing' movie this is it. Writing ten lines to review this film is almost as much a waste of time as it was watching it. The movie has but two redeeming qualities that get a viewer to its end. One is that it looks good. Everything about this film says visually "hey this is a good movie," when in fact it isn't. The only other thing in the film worth noting is that there is a panther. That's it. Panthers are cool.
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3/10
The cinematic cure for insomnia
TdSmth523 April 2012
If you absolutely have got to know what life might have been like for prostitutes in Paris during the early 1900s then you've got to see this. For everyone else, there's nothing here to see.

L'Apollonide is a classy palatial bordello. The prostitutes live and work there. They are under the soft yoke of the madam who sells them everything they need for a hefty price such that they are forever indebted to her and for some reason can't leave. We learn all the boring details of what their life is like- their hygiene routines, their exams with the physician, what they do to pass the time (not much). On some days, there are a bunch of children there. At night the clients arrive, and still little happens as they are happy to just sit around with the prostitutes and stare at each other, play board games, flirt, gossip. One of them brings a panther with him for some reason- a panther that doesn't age. When they get down to business it turns out all the clients have kinkyish proclivities.

One of the prostitutes who has nightmares and visions actually ends up fulfilling them as one of her clients slashes her cheeks, making her unsuitable for regular work. Another ends up with syphilis and dies. We also meet a young girl who decides to join the staff, with the blessing of her parents somehow. The life is portrayed as a type of slavery and yet women join it voluntarily as way out? And the panther will deliver justice. The bordello also faces closure eventually. That is about it when it comes to a plot. The writer/director does his best to avoid telling a story. For instance, one of the girls will read the tarot cards to the others to answer questions. She interprets the past, the present, and when she gets to the future, the director cuts to something else. When there is action, it is almost filmed in slow motion, everybody moves with all the patience in the world in a calculated unnatural way, as if the actors are being overdirected.

The movie looks pretty good, the longest and most commonly repeated scene of the prostitutes sitting around with clients looks like a living still life. Music and sounds are OK until we get near the end when suddenly we get loud anachronistic contemporary music. This movie is 2 hours long but it feels like 20 hours. I had to see it in two sessions.

What is the point of the movie one asks oneself after sitting through this sedative? Other than being the writer/director's prostitute-adoration piece I can't think of any. It doesn't glorify prostitution but it doesn't humanize it either. One can't care for any of the prostitutes, they all look fairly alike and are not particularly attractive, let alone interesting. It doesn't vilify or humanize the clients either. The emotional tone of the movie is entirely flat throughout. One fears there is some brilliant message that one missed but after watching the behind-the-scenes feature where the director explains himself one can conclude that nothing was missed, there isn't anything to this movie. Somewhere hidden behind endless repeated scenes where nothing happens could have been a decent movie about the life and dreams of prostitutes during those Parisian times. But the director isn't interested in telling a story, he is obsessed with some images that he repeats in all his movies and that derail what could have been a story. If anything, this movie is a remarkable waste of effort, funds, and talent, and a lesson on how not to make a movie.
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6/10
Flawed but with some brilliant facets
khsu4 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
First the bad: I found the relationships among the girls and between the madam and the girls to be somewhat one-dimensional and strain credibility. Bonello seemed to want to downplay any conflict in order to emphasize 'sisterhood,' but I found it hard to believe everyone for the most part got along with everyone else and seemed to look out for one another - especially a bunch of women. All the women/girls just seemed generally so 'nice,' spiritually pure, and well-intentioned. The sense of community was idealized and aestheticized to the point where some important, more nuanced aspects of reality were lost.

The ending was also kind of odd. The girls in the house were high-class courtesans with a mostly affluent customer base. Wasn't that a point Bonello was trying to make? And yet in the end they were paralleled with modern-day streetwalkers. It's not like street prostitutes didn't exist back in the day either, but the house girls were different. They're highly trained from a young age - not to fulfill just men's physical needs, but mental and emotional ones as well. High-roller escorts exist today too, and if anything, they would probably be more like them today, than streetwalkers. It's strange Bonello in the closing scenes decided to upend what he just spent the last 2 hours describing.

I think these are two significant flaws of the work.

The good: The Woman Who Laughs was no doubt the 'center' of the film that was trying very hard to be 'centerless,' Flowers of Shanghai-ish. Which was not necessarily a bad thing, as I found her story to be very interesting and moving. Especially in the scene toward the end when she cried the 'tears of sperm' - extremely imaginative, poignant, and profound - and reminded me why I started to watch Bonello's films in the first place after watching Tiresia. I think that moment alone is worth the admission.

Tiresia was nearly flawless throughout and worked as a whole. I didn't really like The Pornographer or On War. Was it just a fluke, a flash of genius? Bonello is still a young director, with only a few full features under his belt, so I would like to wait and see what else he can do.
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2/10
House of Pleasures? (the title in the U.S.)
jjedif17 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Wealthy married men in late 19th century Paris live respectable lives with their wives and children. They probably even take their children to be baptized in the church and are blessed by the religious leaders. When they die, their obituaries will fill the newspapers and they will be buried in large, ornate tombs. In word, they are respectable and respected men by society. And these respectable and respected men, of course, also spend many a night cavorting with prostitutes. Why wouldn't they? Why shouldn't they? They can afford it, it's their right, and no one can tell them not to.

The prostitutes, of course, are also decent women whose only crime was the misfortune has been to be born into a life where being a prostitute is about as good as it gets. One prostitute, in particular, is the victim of a horrendous crime inside the brothel. No one really talks about it; it was just bad luck. But the cruel and grotesque act didn't need to be replayed over and over again. Still, the upside is that as damaged goods the victim of the crime will be spared pregnancy, syphilis and/or being old by her madame. And on another upbeat note, by the end of the film rich women have been liberated...and can now visit the brothel with their husbands.

I did like the scene where the state medical examiner examines all the women, not from an artistic standpoint, but because, at least, in France prostitutes do get some medical attention, unlike here in the U.S. Of course, syphilis has symptoms, but the disease then goes latent, so the doctor was bounnd to miss some cases, condoms were not en vogue...and there were no treatments for syphilis, syphilis was probably going to infect most prostitutes...and their johns...and their families...eventually. But later having both clients and call girls wear cute masks was a nice touch as was ending the film on Bastille Day!

What's in this film for the viewer? Some nudity. No sex (this is not pornography, after all; this is art!). Ridiculous dialogue. Poorly developed characters. And that deja vu feeling that I've seen this all before in another not very memorable film before that I've forgotten about. And yeah, the musics was terrible. "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues? Come on! I may have to watch "The Cook, the Thief, his Wive and her Lover" wash the visions of this depressing film out of my memory.
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3/10
Maison de l'ennui.
rmax3048236 January 2013
It was a long, hard slog, trying to get through this story of a French whorehouse and its staff during la belle époque. A poor sixteen-year-old applies, and is accepted into, the bordello. She's the audience proxy. The other ladies teach her the tricks of the trade. On the whole, it might have been written by a French anthropologist. The writer/director is determined to show us how this system works. I admire Levi-Strauss but I could never understand him. I think I understand this movie, though. It's just that it's so dull.

It might have helped if any of the characters were at all animated but they're not. They're, how you say, blasé. It would also have helped if there were even one girl who was beautiful enough to coagulate your eyeballs. Instead, one of the most prominent of the ladies has a nose on her that suggests she should be hovering over a grassy field, wings fluttering, searching for mice.

On the plus side, a good deal of attention is paid to period detail. The production crew must have studied Toulouse-Lautrec with a microscope, and it turned out pretty atmospheric. We have the rosy cheeks, the scented soap, and those endearing black chokers that girls of the period used to wear and that -- come to think of it -- Natalie Portman wore in "Léon: The Professional." Whatever happened to black chokers anyway? They were very sexy. Everything seems to be changing for the worse. The old days are gone forever.

I'm joking around because, I expect, I have nothing much more to say about the film. I retired from anthropology some years ago and am fed up with tribal studies.

You want to see a decent whorehouse movie? See "Pretty Baby," also directed by a Frenchman, Louis Malle, in 1978. The setting is New Orleans in 1917, but it's very French in its approach to whoredom, and New Orleans was still rather a French city with monolingual French speakers. Degas visited relatives there. The set design is equally evocative. And it has drama as well as nudity. This one has only nudity.
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1/10
Prostitution luxury style
dierregi1 January 2016
Lacking a decent plot, this movie looks like a very expensive reportage in a pretentious fashion magazine. The "girls" working in the "maison" are all young, slim and relatively good looking, and spend their evenings dressed in velvet, lace and expensive jewelry, drinking lots of champagne and having sex with kinky and decadent rich men as an afterthought.

The "action" - or lack thereof - takes place between 1899 and 1900, when apparently men had a lot of free time, since before getting down to business they could lounge drinking champagne from p**s pots, stare at female body parts for hours and converse about nothing with the girls.

Despite what may sound like an enviably decadent and sensual environment, nobody looks like they are having any fun and the very few sex scenes are always with women in various degrees of nakedness and men fully clothed (with barely the glimpse of a penis). This makes the movie even more misogynist and boring, although it is difficult to understand to which audience it was targeted. Since it is a French movie, it was probably supposed to be "art" because the French are not interested in business.

If this is art, it is definitely of the most tedious type. Half way I started wondering how long it was still going to last, hoping for the story to pick up. But nothing happened until the film ends, with the stupidest fading to modern day Paris, and a prostitute getting out of the car of a client, as if to say that those "girls" of one hundred years ago really had it so good.....
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2/10
What's the point?!
Abdjad9 May 2012
The titling is written in an unimaginative Arial-type font, a mood that doesn't change until two hours have passed away.

If this is meant as a metaphor of a brothel, then the movie succeeded.

A parade of sumptuous draperies, robes, champagne, panthers and naked bodies isn't enough to make a good movie - or at least shot as this one is. They are not able to express by themselves ideas or a captivating plot.

The only positive aspect is the anachronistic use of modern music for a story set at the end of the 19th century. (Something seen in a much better movie, with some visual and spatial similarities, Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.)
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6/10
empty sadness
SnoopyStyle16 May 2016
It's 1899 Paris. Marie-France Dallaire is the madame of the brothel L'Apollonide. As the months roll by, she is faced with debilitating rent increase from the landlord. Clotilde has been there for 12 years since she was 16. Julie is nicknamed Caca for her specialty. She dreams of going with her married customer Maurice. Léa mails away gifts of her pubic hair. Pauline Deshaies is a 15 year old who writes a letter applying for a job. The movie open with the Jewess Madeleine who has a prophetic dream. She is cut horribly by a customer. These and the other girls deal with the many issues as the brothel threatens to close.

I'm not sure if it's a deliberate idea from filmmaker Bertrand Bonello. There is a matter-of-factness to these women. I like to have more history to these interesting characters. It would be great to follow fewer of them and dig deeper into their lives. The Joker face is compelling visually. The tone is one of empty sadness. There isn't really any tension. The rent issue isn't that dramatic. I do have a big problem with the split screen scenes. There remind me of surveillance video and that takes me out of the movie.
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6/10
Not so original
leoperu28 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
It's hard to believe that no reviewer connects Bonello's (inferior) movie with the novel "Yama" ("The Pit") by the lesser - though still great - Russian realist Alexandr I. Kuprin ; even the "original" ending is pure Kuprin transferred to more distant future : times are getting worse, brothels closing, impoverished madams packing... soon the facade of the house changes completely, and all those girls named so and so run their own way lost in a big city, becoming a new kind of prostitutes : lonely street nomads .... Watching "L'Apollonide" I tried in vain to be entertained or swept by it, to like the "Nights in White Satin" gimmick, or the brutal visualizing of the " tears of sperm" metaphor, or the sequence of the mutilation structured a la Nichols'"Catch-22".
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