Bertrand Bonello’s highly stylized look at the final days of a fin-de-siècle brothel in Paris conjures up the languid beauty and frank sexuality of French Romantic painting. Its visual sumptuousness lands somewhere between Ingres and Renoir but with stylistic provocations worthy of a time-travelling Baudelaire.
In the nineteenth century, much of the Parisian sex trade was confined to grands maisons, populated by elegant madams and a vetted clientele. They were akin to social clubs, with the gentleman participants expected to be as charming and witty as they might be in more respectable drawing rooms. The ladies were provocatively dressed and, upstairs, occupied numerous boudoirs ready for carnal pleasures. Even in such a controlled environment, dangers still lurked: disease was rampant and lethal, and sometimes even a gentleman might lose his temper and harm one of the women.
House of Tolerance immerses us in this long-abandoned world, awash with opium, champagne and the inevitable rush of semen. The film’s pace accentuates the languor of the place, its many personages slowly revealing their life journeys like an old-fashioned striptease. Several of the stories are grim: country girls desperate for money, dumped from failed relationships or, most difficult to watch, slashed with a knife for little apparent reason.
And yet there is grace, especially in the daytime moments of sisterly camaraderie and the casual yet oddly affectionate deceits of the madam (in a stern turn from the formidable Noémie Lvovsky). This spirit carries into moments when modernity intrudes, most notably in a penultimate dance — as the brothel is about to be closed under order of the mayor — to the tune of an oddly appropriate “Nights in White Satin.” –TIFF
Bertrand was born September 11, 1968, in Nice, France.
Bertrand Bonello trained as a classical musician and played in an orchestra, accompanying Carole Laure and Françoise Hardy, among others, on tours and in the recording studio. He composed music for short films (including his own) as well as for commercials. His first feature film was Quelque chose d’organique (Something Organic) (1998), a co-production of France and Canada which was presented at the Berlin Festival (Panorama). Bonello moved to Montreal, Canada in 1991. He lives between Paris and Montreal.
Le pornographe (2001) won the FIPRESCI prize at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. Tiresia (2003) was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
His work has been associated with the New French Extremity. –Wikipedia
An elegiac study of fin de siècle sexual politics, House of Pleasures often resembles a Pre-Raphaelite paintings brought to life. The brushstrokes of light and shadow conceal (or at least obfuscate) the artifice of its gilded interiors and studied haut-bourgeois trappings, the gossomer-thin fiction of blank-faced passivity and languid eroticism.
In our annual poll, we pair our favorite new films of 2012 with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features.
The Ferronis take our end of the year double feature extravaganza to delirious heights.
In our annual poll, we pair our favorite new films of 2011 with older films seen in the same year to create fantastic double features.
Moving Image Source’s “Moments of 2011,” Reverse Shot‘s top ten, the NYT’s awards season package and, of course, more.
And more year-end lists from New York and the Guardian. Plus: Sony vs the New Yorker.
Bertrand Bonello’s turn of the century brothel film leaves behind something mysterious, lingering, like some left hanging in a vacated room.
“Not many films have ever approached the possibilities afforded by the slippery subjectivity of cinematic time so directly.”
Ferroni awards are given out willingly and grudgingly at Cannes this year—which donkey shall be crowned?
The end of the world will be beautiful, or so says the Polish poster for Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, quite fittingly on the eve of
Brothel films are like submarine movies—the stories, the dramas, even the details always remain the same, held in a airtight container
Updated through 5/18. "[E]veryone I know absolutely despised Bertrand Bonello's House of Tolerance, set in a Parisian brothel ca. 1899-1900
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