Friday, September 23, 2011


'House Of Tolerence' is about the downfall of an upscale French brothel leading to the inevitable rise of the kind of prostitution we all know of today (hookers, street walkers, pimps, etc). This rise and fall coincides with the dawn of a new century (the movie starts in 1899 and ends in 1900). Even though the story focuses on one specific brothel and the closely knit group of women who live & work there, it essentially represents all brothels during that period that were on their way out. The film is highly stylized (the elaborate & authentic-looking costume designs) and sometimes surreal (there's a dream sequence where one of the women cries tears of semen), but it's also realistic (there's plenty of not-so glamorous scenes like the women getting tested for STD's and attacked by their johns). Bertrand Bonello is no stranger to exploring sex and/or sexuality on the silver screen ('The Pornographer' being about the obvious & 'Tiresia' being about a transgender person), so 'House Of Tolerance' fits right in with the rest of his body of work.
I know the topic of prostitution has been done a million times before (something a few different critics have noted in their ridiculous reviews of this movie) but as many of us know, most films that deal with this subject create this false image of what life is like for prostitutes (pretty woman, best little whorehouse in texas and even Bresson's the ladies of the bois de boulogne). I think Lodge Kerrigan's 'Claire Dolan' may have been one of the last great films on this subject until now.
'House Of Tolerance' shows a dark, twisted and sometimes freaky side of men that most people wouldn't expect from a film about around sex set during the 19th century.
What also sets 'House Of Tolerance' apart from other films about prostitution (along with half of the lineup at TIFF this year) is that it has style. Sorry to sound so vague and pretentious but that's one of the things I loved about it. Style and a cast of BEAUTIFUL French actresses...

Like I said before, the story follows a group of sisterly prostitutes who all live together in a brothel. The main characters are...

"The Jewess" (later nicknamed: "The Woman Who Laughs" due to the joker-like scars on her mouth given to her by a sadistic client at the beginning of the movie)
After getting stitches on the sides of her face she obviously cant work as prostitute anymore (the head madam still keeps her around as the house keeper). Later on in the story one of the regular clients grows fascinated with the jewess and hires her as the main attraction in a group sex party (one of my favorite scenes). Her nickname, as well as the scars on her face, are a clear reference to the 1928 film 'The Man Who Laughs', which also inspired Christopher Nolan's joker character from 'The Dark Knight'.
'The Man Who Laughs' (1928)
The full figured "new girl" who is the most emotionally unattached from the lifestyle and the only one who seems to treat prostitution like a job and nothing more.

An opium addict who becomes somewhat attached to one of her regular clients and grows jealous when he chooses to be with another girl. This character is also used in a very pivotal scene in the end where we see the same actress 100+ years in the future as a modern-day prostitute walking the streets in a grimey area of what I assume to be Paris.




"Marie France"
The head madam of the brothel.

For something that's almost 140 minutes long, I never looked at my watch once or got bored. Had any other movie shown so many scenes of women sitting around, hanging out and just looking pretty I would have eventually grown bored. But it didn't seem to bother me in 'House Of Tolerance'.
I'm also a sucker for a dark, modern ambient score, which is another thing this had going for it.
This is bound to spark some heated debates. It's one of those films that could either enrage or please a female viewer depending on how they look at it. There's also elements of the "New French Extremity" in 'House Of Tolerance' (a genre of somewhat violent & "provocative" french films from the late 90's & early '00's like 'Irreversible', 'I Stand Alone', 'Humanity', 'Basai Moi' and a few more). The face slashing scene of "The Jewess" (which we actually see twice), made a few people get up and leave.

Black Venus (2010)
While watching this I was reminded very much of another recent french film: 'Black Venus' (as well as the FEW good moments in Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut'). Both 'Black Venus' and 'House Of Tolerance' are sad, 2+ hour-long, unapologetic looks at the sex trade and the spread of STD's in 19th century Europe. They both have a great eye for detail and really make you feel as if you're in the 1800's. I hope 'House Of Tolerance' doesn't fall victim to the same problems that 'Black Venus' did like misunderstanding movie critics who didn't really give it a chance. Hopefully 'House Of Tolerance' will play at a nice theater here in the city with a good screen so the audience can get the full effect (the "look" of the movie is very rich and colorful).

house of tolerance

eyes wide shut

This is the last of my highlights. To read up on everything else I saw in Toronto make sure to check out the TIFF roundup on the Pink Smoke website as well as my other highlights on this blog if you haven't yet...

L'Apollonide - Clip Génériqueby hautetcourt


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