House of Tolerance
Directed by Bertrand Bonello
Cornerhouse, 18 February 2012
Although at times quite disturbing, this film nonetheless is a worthwhile work of cinema.
There’s nothing vicarious or titillating about it, the abiding note being one of weariness. A weariness of the body and the soul, the business of pleasure apparently really taking it out of you.
The film focuses on a brothel in fin de siècle Paris: we are shown the Madam and her girls, the wealthy men who make up the clientele. While on the surface all is happiness and hedonism and unbridled enjoyment, in reality the women are bonded slaves, their bodies hired out to the men who pay for their services.
Yes, the violence erupts in one horrific scene. But in a sense it’s always present, taking different forms. There is a network of conscription and complicity, and what you might call the Coppelia scene – a client likes a girl to act the role of a clockwork doll – is perhaps paradigmatic.
Decadence has never seemed so dull and deadening, so less like fun.
An accomplished, very impressive film.