IFC films Brings Bertrand Bonello’s HOUSE OF PLEASURES To On DemandNovember 09, 2011
On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: HOUSE OF PLEASURS (IFC Films).
HOUSE OF PLEASURES
When times get tough, liberal acceptance and tolerance take the first hit…
By Cynthia Kane
What is it that attracts us to the 19th century romanticist notion that whorehouses were more than just that… that they were houses of pleasure, houses of love, places where notorious acts of the flesh could, if only, turn into quixotic love?
In this gorgeously and sensuously photographed film directed by Bertrand Bonello, there’s honesty and brutality amidst the beauty of the women who live and work here… in this so-called “house of pleasure”. Yet there is no real pleasure for these women who are little more than slaves, no house of romantic notions except for the men who come incessantly to satisfy their needs from these young – and some barely pubescent - women. In the end it’s only a place that takes and takes and takes from these young prostitutes, from the men who come to be serviced and the madam who attempts to make her fortune.
HOUSE OF PLEASURES is a complex, a dreamlike journey descending into hell. A metaphor one thinks of the romantic dream of the 19th century turning into the genocidal, bloodthirsty and dehumanizing century of the 20th. It’s as if we’re sucked into a sumptuous, deliriously gorgeous nightmare from which we’ll only awaken 2 hours+ later, when the film thrusts us back into the Parisian streets of the 21st century. Thrust into cold contemporary reality only to be haunted by the previous images we’ve absorbed...
I wonder if this is closer to the film
Stanley Kubrick wanted to make
when he directed EYES WIDE SHUT?
Released by IFC FILMS in the U.S. as HOUSE OF PLEASURES (also known as HOUSE OF TOLERANCE in the UK and L’APOLLONIDE: SOUVENIRS DE LA MAISON CLOSE, its title in competition at Cannes), this is a film that will stay with you long after like a hallucinatory trip that we at once long to never escape and wish to God we’d never took. This is a director with much to say, but never directly. He’s an illusory poet leaving us to figure it out. He seems to want us to long for and repulse from all of it at once.
Interesting to note: l’Appllonide is based loosely on the infamous brothel Le Chabanais which finally closed its doors in Paris in 1946, the year bordellos became illegal in France.
Extraordinary performances all. Bonello cast a combination of professionals and amateurs to play these roles over 9 months to find the right combination and allow the group to bond.
Standouts include Noèmie Lvovsky as Marie-France, a middle-aged madame, both coldly businesslike and a mother-figure to her cloistered cluster, Alice Barnole as Madeleine or La Juive or after she’s disfigured by one of her clients, “the Woman who Laughs”, Hafsia Herzi as Samira - exotic and Algerian, Céline Sallette as Clotilde – burned out after twelve years in the house, taking constant refuge in her opium pipe, Jasmine Trinca as Julie – whom syphilis forces into retirement, Iliana Zabeth as Pauline – a child from the country who still believes prostitution will find her freedom in the world just as all these young women longed to “find freedom” and “emancipation” in Marie-France’s house, they are no sooner are brought into “employment” than they are indentured to the point where they’ll never buy their way out. Yet these women are not martyrs. They are consummate professionals in a very dangerous world… slowly dying from the proclivities and passions of their clients.
Bonello also cast several well-known French actor/directors including Jacques Nolot (HINTERLAND, BEFORE I FORGET), Xavier Beauvois (OF GODS AND MEN, LE PETIT LIEUTENANT, NORD) as well as Noèmie Lvovksy (OUBLIE-MOI, LIFE DOESN’T SCARE ME).
Kudos go to cinematographer Josée Deshaies for plunging us into this Belle Epoque secret world and equally to costume designer Anais Romand.
Music is often jarring with 20th century rock, including the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin. Yet it feels somehow fitting and just right.
The genesis of this film was the bringing together of several ideas Bonello had after making his last film, DE LA GUERRE which had an almost all-male cast, and wanted to do something that examined the dynamics within a group of women. The idea finally came to an in-depth look into a closed world, here a brothel – it could have equally been a convent – and from the point of view of the women.
The idea of Madeleine’s disfigurement came directly from a dream Bonello attributes to Victor Hugo’s novel called , “The Man who Laughs”. He shot continuously on one set, allowing the camera travel in continuous motion from room to room without cuts.
The focus is always on the women, rarely on their clients. In a world awash with candlelight, champagne, witty conversation, opium, semen and disease.
- Cynthia Kane
Cynthia Kane reviews documentaries for On Demand Weekly. She is a writer and Sr Programming Manager for [ ITVS], overseeing the International Initiative for funding in their SF office. Prior she’s had many incarnations from actor to writer to producer. She co-created DOCday on Sundance Channel.
Look for HOUSE OF PLEASURES (IFC Films) under your cable system's On Demand section.
Read Other Reviews By Cynthia Kane:
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Thomas Vinterberg's SUBMARINO - DEMAND IT
Michelle Williams In MEEK'S CUTOFF - DEMAND IT
Vincent Gallo Is Back With ESSENTIAL KILLING - DEMAND IT
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS - DEMAND IT
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM - DEMAND IT
DEAR ALICE - DEMAND IT
KAREN CRIES ON THE BUS - DEMAND IT