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House of Tolerance

House of Tolerance

Released 27 January 2012
Director Bertrand Bonello

Hafsia Herzi, Céline Sallette, Jasmine Trinca, Adèle Haenel, Alice Barnole, Iliana Zabeth, Noémie Lvovsky
Writer(s) Bertrand Bonello

Bertrand Bonello, Kristina Larsen
Origin France
Running Time 122 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 18

Intolerable dullness.

Bertrand Bonello’s film tells the story of ‘The Apollonide’ a high-class Paris brothel at the turn of the twentieth century. Bonello focuses on the lives of the prostitutes as they go about their trade. There’s the beautiful Arab Samira (Hafsia Herzi), the tragic Julie (Jasmine Trinca), the pretty but cold Léa (Adèle Haenel), the depressed Clotilde (Céline Sallette) and ‘the Jewess’ Madeleine (Alice Barnole) who suffers a horrifically violent attack at the beginning of the film. Marie-France (Noémie Lvovsky) is the madame and she rules the house with calm but ruthless authority.

Into the house comes sixteen-year-old Pauline (Iliana Zabeth) and as she’s shown the ropes we learn about the practicalities of life as a prostitute at the time. Though the girls all entered the house willingly, the debts they incur effectively make them prisoners. However it’s made clear that there are worse places that they could end up and they try to make the best of it. We see their nightly interactions with the clients, a motley crew of bored aristocrats, wealthy businessmen and curious perverts. There is drug addiction, sexual disease and sadistic clients to deal with too.

The girls endure these encounters with thinly-veiled boredom and we the audience have great sympathy with them as we are similarly bored watching them. The problem with films that feature so much sex and nudity is that their makers seem to believe that shock value will somehow make them interesting in themselves. Unfortunately for Bonello, this isn’t the case and his film is tedious in the extreme. The girls characters are poorly written so it’s hard to identify with any of them.

The film just seems to go on and on, with little enough happening of real interest. It’s also irritating in parts as well, such as when all the girls dance to Procol Harum’s 'Whiter Shade of Pale'. As far as I’m aware, that wasn’t yet released back then. Bonello is apparently making a case for the legalisation of prostitution but you would hardly know it. He finishes the film with two scenes that are frankly laughable, but were no doubt intended as some sort of serious commentary.

The ‘Dirty Mac’ brigade might appreciate it for all the bare female flesh on show, but everyone else should do themselves a favour and avoid this tiresome, self-indulgent load of nonsense.

- Jim O’Connor