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.
House of Tolerance (2011)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.....
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.)
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.