Films We Love: HOUSE OF TOLERANCE

Directed by: Bertrand Bonello

Starring: Hafsia Herzi,Jasmine Trinca,Adèle Haenel,Noémie Lvovsky

Released: November 25, 2011



This incredible film (aka L'Apollonide Souvenirs de la maison close) is a frank, unexploitative account of life in a smart Parisian brothel in 1899 and 1900. The dawn of the XXth century: L'Apollonide, a house of tolerance, is living its last days.



In this closed world, where some men fall in love and others become viciously harmful, the girls share their secrets, their fears, their joys and their pains. This is the life in an elegant Parisian brothel in the early twentieth century.


The madam essentially owns the women: their expenses exceed earnings, they are in debt. They face problems of pregnancy, opium, age, and violent clients. One reads sociology at her peril. Occasionally, a client talks of marriage. It demonstrates that la belle époque was less belle for the women than for their wealthy clients, though better than walking the streets or working in a sweatshop.



The film is superbly designed to suggest the oppressive, hypocritical haut-bourgeois decor, the obsessive eroticism that excludes real desire, and the languorous timelessness that makes one day like another.



There is enough detail about money, cosmetics, hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases, theatrical deportment and authentic camaraderie to qualify the film as a kind of documentary. But a final coda offering a glimpse of women working as prostitutes in present-day Paris, waiting in the streets for passing motorists to pick them up, shows that plus ça change, plus c'est le même commerce.



The girls of the Apollonide have signed up of their own free will; however, as desperation and danger go hand in hand in this house of tolerance, none can say there's pleasure in this profession. Not even Marie-France.