MOVIE REVIEWS |
EDITORIALS | EVENTS |
EXAMINER.COM FILM ARTICLES
Saturday, March 31, 2012
House Of Pleasures (L'Apollonide - Souvenirs De La Maison Close)
The Horrors, Tragedies And Banalities Of Sex And Commerce
A scene from "House Of Pleasures", directed by Bertrand Bonello.
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Saturday, March 31,
With its literal visual
representations of descriptive sexual acts and imaginative canvas of thought,
the ironically-titled "House Of Pleasures", which premiered last year at the
Toronto International Film Festival, is a haunting, macabre chronicle of the
last years of a French bordello.
Bertrand Bonello's drama is an absorbing, all-encompassing look at several women
as they dissect sexual acts, converse with each other about the nobility of
those acts or lack thereof, and the business of sex. The Madame of the
house knows that the society's changing mores, strict laws, economy and public
health interests mean the whorehouse she runs is on its last legs. Each of
the articulate, sophisticated women who ply their trade is more or less an
indentured servant, poor, and paying off debts by selling their bodies to
aristocratic and powerful rich men with "interesting" peccadilloes.
Elegant, beautiful and decorous, "House Of Pleasures" is an intelligent
conversation piece among a sisterhood, multi-dimensional in its detailed look at
every facet of what a woman has to endure when having sex. Some of the
women view sex as an expression of love. Others look at it as pain.
Some see it as both. Others act. "Fake it," one says to a young
voluptuous newcomer who has nearly the same milky-white complexion as Emily
Browning's title character in
"Sleeping Beauty", a similar but static film
by comparison. When the newcomer asks why, the simple response is, "that's
what everyone does here."
The men of "House Of Pleasures" are always prodding, prying, plying and
penetrating the women. There's little introspection and few types of men
in between extremes. If the men are not doctors intruding on the opposite
sex with speculums, they are sadomasochistic freak animals whose deceptions and
intentions are bloody. Yet I don't believe Mr. Bonello indicts them.
(The bordello women mock the men in one of the film's few light-hearted
occasions.) Mr. Bonello doesn't pity the women he displays. He
allows us to see them breathe, exhale and be themselves outside of their night
jobs. There's tension between them, but at the end of the day they're all
in the same boat, sinking or swimming with the tide in a business where age can
spell the end of a difficult but highly lucrative livelihood.
"House Of Pleasures" effectively melds the women's differing psychosexual
outlooks in an artsy, intimate and surprisingly discreet manner. The film
is claustrophobic, winding labyrinth-like from one character's vision to
another's. Mysterious, puzzling, provocative and daring, "House Of
Pleasures" is nothing if not unpredictable and suspenseful. I was often on
edge while watching and wondering where this film would take me, and it takes
you down corridors and chambers of the mind in these women's psyches that none
of the film's largely plastic men could ever hope to understand. In "House
Of Pleasures", a thinking person's sophisticated sex fantasy, women bare their
clothes and their minds in an unexpurgated way.
One of the most fascinating, if oddly beguiling aspects of "House Of Pleasures"
is the specter of exactly where and in whose mind it may occur in. Sure,
the film starts in 1899 but is that 1899 presented as a romantic memory or as an
interpretation viewed from the present day? For example, relatively
modern-day music (The Moody Blues' "Nights In White Satin") plays over a 1900s
scene, one well-choreographed to the song. A question I inevitably asked
myself: is the film taking place in the mind of someone in the present? Is
it nostalgia? A meditation? "House Of Pleasures" feels like a
documentary as it evolves into a expose on double standards. The men are
as destitute in their morals as the women -- in fact more so -- but at least the
latter aren't cheating themselves or any spouses they may have. The film
exercises a heroic or vaunted notion of whore pride, but perhaps fails to note
that the men in "House Of Pleasures" are the biggest whores on parade.
Amidst its carnival of carnality "House Of Pleasures" casts its lot with central
figure Madeleine, horribly disfigured by a john early during 1899.
Nicknamed "The Jewess", Madeleine has nightmares about a man who fills her
entirely with his bodily fluids. She proceeds to vividly and eloquently
describe how this experience affects her, and how she completely surrenders to
it. Some of the film's episodes border on surreal, and the director who
teases at times, goes all the way to fearlessly represent a woman's fantasies
complex desires. It's a brave move, and given what we see throughout this
movie -- including a live black panther stroked by a man who repeatedly
soothingly utters the name designer Vuitton -- rewarding and utterly justified.
On occasion however, Mr. Bonello's film emits an air of self-satisfaction, its
scenery rich, velvety and lavish.
For all its meticulous coverage inside of a musty, sensual palace of bodies and
sexual tastes "House Of Pleasures" is a skin-deep experience, but one that is
jarring and occasionally hard to watch. There is sex that is sexy, and
much sex that is not. As the film unfolds you get a sense that sex was
more colorful, joyful and extravagant 100 years ago. When juxtaposed
against the harsh, every-woman-for-herself lights of today, the sex trade back
then, for all its ups and many downs, seems downright romantic.
With: Alice Barnole, Iliana Zabeth, Hafsia Herzi, Céline Sallette, Adele Haenel,
Jasmine Trica, Noémie Lvovsky, Louis-Do le Lencquesaing, Esther Garrel, Xavier
Beauvois, Judith Lou Levy, Pauline Jacquard, Joanna Grudzinska.
"House Of Pleasures" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America.
It contains strong sexual content, sensuality, full frontal male and female
nudity, brief scenes of bloody, graphic violence, explicit language and drug use.
The film is in the French language with English language subtitles. The film's
running time is two hours and six minutes.
COPYRIGHT 2012. POPCORNREEL.COM. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
MOVIE REVIEWS |
EDITORIALS | EVENTS |
| PHOTOS |
EXAMINER.COM FILM ARTICLES