Director: Bertand Bonello
Starring: Hafsia Herzi, Céline Sallette, Jasmine Trinca, Adèle Haenel, Noeémie Lvovsky
Duration: 122 min.
A look at the final days of an elegant, turn-of-the-century Paris brothel, the lives of the Madam, and the dozen girls who live and work there.
House of Tolerance also known as House of Pleasures is a film written and directed by Bertrand Bonello. It premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. It has been nominated for five awards at the upcoming 37th César Awards.
Stylish, atmospheric, and purposefully anachronistic - Bonello who is no stranger to portraying sexuality in films, having previously directed Tiresia and The Pornographer, drops us into the middle of this luscious mansion brothel with a cast of stunning and immensely talented young actresses poised to take over French cinema, decked out in the finest La Belle Époque fashions, and reinvigorates the period piece with an unusual bag of cinematic tricks.
He employs a loose narrative structure that offers unflinching glimpses of the lives of these women and the depraved clientele that they service, with multiple threads and encounters that start, stop, stutter, repeat, and sometimes run in parallel with a split screen. Relying on the mood created by the sumptuous costumes, luxurious decor, and the steady seductive cinematography from Josée Deshaies to take us on a journey to a place that exists in it's own time and space. Normally seeing girls with tattoos, and hearing rock and soul music in a film set in 1899 would be laughable, but here it all seems to fit into Bonello's overall scheme, a dreamlike and drifting collection of experiences and memories unburdened by traditional rules.
The entire cast is marvelous, with brave and powerful performances from all of the actresses. I fully expect to see and hear the names of rising stars Hafsia Hersi, Céline Sallette, and Adèle Haenel a lot more in the near future. The girls all share the lead in roles that require equal parts strength and vulnerability, and near constant nudity. They resemble a supportive tight knit family, and the house is a well oiled machine helmed by Marie-France (Noémie Lvovsky) in a solid secondary role deserving of her César nomination.
The story might be a bit too enigmatic, the setting too claustrophobic, and the running time too long for most audiences, but there is a certain sense of magic in the gorgeously rich atmosphere, unconventional structure, and arresting images of fantasy crafted here that give the film an irresistible power. Topped off with an unforgettable ending sequence with a spiraling climax that brings us tumbling back to bitter present day reality with the immortal strains of Lee Moses' Bad Girl.
— Bonjour Tristesse
Interview with the director and two of the stars, courtesy of Cinémoi: