Titles have varied: L’Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close) and House of Tolerance and House of Pleasures, but I’d prefer Bonello Bordello. I didn’t have high hopes despite all the best-of-year placements and Bonello’s 50 Under 50 crowning. Didn’t love The Pornographer, and the promo photos of pretty girls in fancy dresses drooping on a sofa didn’t look thrilling. But the movie is thrilling and engrossing in a way I can’t explain. Scenes are repeated from different angles and through split screens, and a final time-jump to the present day doesn’t even seem out of place in the dream-world of the film.
I can no longer remember all the characters, but let’s try: Marie-France Dallaire (Noémie Lvovsky) is madam of Bonello Bordello, looks vaguely like Meryl Streep. Madeleine (Alice Barnole) aka The Jewess is easily recognizable, having been given a Joker face by a sadistic knife-wielding client. Samira is Hafsia Herzi, Rym in The Secret of the Grain. Pauline (Iliana Zabeth) “Le Petite” is the youngest one who arrives after the time jump from Nov. 1899 to Mar. 1900. Lea (Adele Haenel of Water Lilies) is shortish, blonde, has an arm tattoo. Julie/Caca (Jasmine Trinca of The Son’s Room) has a neck tattoo. Clothilde (Celine Sallette of Rust & Bone and the TV series Les Revenants) has dark hair, looks like Maggie Gyllenhaal and gets addicted to opium. I paid less attention to the men, but apparently some of them were played by filmmakers.
Played in competition at Cannes, nominated for eight Cesars, winning for costume design. One of Cinema Scope’s favorite movies of 2011.
from P. Coldiron’s excellent article in Slant:
House of Pleasures‘s pièce de résistance comes when, following the death of one of the ladies from syphilis, the women of L’Apollonide gather in the parlor for a moment of grieving set to the Moody Blues’s “Nights in White Satin,” one of a handful of anachronistic pop songs deployed diagetically across the film. This moment of both grief and its exorcism via its performance comes to a halt when, at the song’s final notes, Clotilde emerges from an opium session and passes out upon entering the room. She awakens in the arms of the recently deceased, and the tender conversation that follows (“If we don’t burn how will the night be lit?”), which isn’t dismissed as a dream or hallucination, but simply presented as it is, perfectly distills Bonello’s project: the days of history as a succession of ghost stories are over; death, taken as inevitable, becomes irrelevant; and freed from the fear of looking forever forward toward death, we can look backward and see in the mirror of a truly lived history an image of a better future. Not an inevitability, but a possibility; this is all we can ask for.
Surprised how much the newspaper critics disliked it. I thought P. Bradshaw was supposed to be cool, but he gives it one star and calls it “weirdly nasty”.
I was obsessed with manipulating time because I did not have space; that’s why you have the flashbacks and a change in aesthetic point of view. I was trying to show a rich amount of time because I did not have a lot of space. I knew the film would be tough in a way, so I wanted to give some beauty and a lot of attention to light. We became obsessed with how light was seen during this period, which we can see in [paintings] from this period. We did research on the mix of electricity and candles because 1900 was when electric lights started appearing in Paris. So we decided that in the salon and the main rooms downstairs there would be electric lights and then upstairs there would still be candles. There were many little details used and the sum of the details give the aesthetic of the film. The whole film is made inside with no windows, so I wanted it to be theatrical with movement and beauty.