House Of Tolerance (R18)

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Review byMatthew Turner29/01/2012

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 122 mins

House of Tolerance features striking visuals, an eclectic soundtrack and engaging performances from its frequently topless cast, but there's very little in the way of plot and it's never quite clear what point the film is making.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Bertrand Bonello, House of Tolerance (or L’Apollonide: Souvenirs de la Maison Close, although it was given the rather less subtle title of House of Pleasures in the States) stars Noemie Lvovsky as Madame Marie-France, who runs a high class brothel known as L’Apollonide in 1899 Paris. The various working girls include: Madeleine (Alice Barnole), who is viciously attacked by one of her clients (Laurent Lacotte), who carves a Joker-like smile onto her face; ageing old hand Clotilde (Celine Sallette), whose best days are behind her; 16 year old new girl Pauline (Iliana Zabeth); Algerian Samira (Hafsia Herzi); and pretty Julie (Jasmine Trinca), who's diagnosed with syphilis.

The Good
Although each of the characters has a storyline of sorts, there's very little in the way of actual plot, so Bonello's camera lounges around with the girls, almost documentary-style as they get ready for work, relax between clients, undertake bizarre engagements (such as behaving like a wind-up doll or making up Japanese-sounding gibberish) or banter amongst themselves. The realism of these scenes is frequently juxtaposed with fantasy sequences and there are some extraordinary visuals (an unusual crying scene in particular), while Bonello maintains an effective air of claustrophobia throughout, which is fitting, as the girls are forbidden to leave the brothel unless under strict supervision.

The performances are excellent, particularly Barnole and Zabeth, who have the most prominent storylines. There's also an eclectic soundtrack that works surprisingly well, as well as some pleasingly bonkers touches, such as the fact that the women keep a live panther in the house for some reason.

The Bad
The main problem with the film is that, while it's all very pretty, the lack of plot means that you're ultimately left wondering exactly what the film is trying to say. Occasionally, it seems to be aiming for the intriguingly enigmatic quality of Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence (one of the characters mysteriously disappears, for example), but it never quite pulls it off. There's also an ill-advised directorial mis-step in the finale that makes a clumsy point very badly and instantly breaks the spell cast by the rest of the film.

Worth seeing?
Despite its lack of plot and a disappointing ending, the House of Tolerance is ultimately worth a visit, thanks to its striking visuals and strong performances.

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Content updated: 22/08/2019 23:06

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