House of Tolerance review
:. Director: Bertrand Bonello
:. Starring: Hafsia Herzi, Jasmine Trinca
:. Running Time: 2:02
:. Year: 2011
:. Country: France
The Apollonide could have certainly been a major film. Supported by a sensual and graceful cast, it is reminiscent of Hou Hsiao Hsien's masterpiece, The Flowers of Shanghai, most particularly because of the languor that inhabits this cozy and confined environment marked by the end of an era. The beauty of those bodies and souls is underlined in each sequence, caressed by elegant camera movements while the - joyful or dramatic - stories of these characters are told with a great amount of restraint. French director Bertrand Bonello (Tiresia, The Pornographer) composes his scenes with precision: the lighting is clear, the costumes are striking and those women radiate with beauty even though they are stuck in this cruel world - they might dream of escaping but they don't have much hope as, most likely poverty or death would be waiting for them.
The world we are describing is set in a brothel, at the turn of the 20th century. Except for a rare picnic by a pond, the camera will not leave the premise, in order to focus closely on relationships, whether it's between prostitutes or with their preferred customers. We gradually get to know them, developing respect for them as a group - rather than as individuals - and slowly understanding the rules that govern this place.
Refusing to turn his film into a simple period piece, Mr. Bonello gives it a modern feel, through a rock soundtrack and the characters' use of contemporary language (expressions, grammar); the last scene showing the prostitutes in 21st century Paris certainly confirms the director's approach.
But those qualities are, arguably, also this movie's main flaws: the direction's modernity is somewhat excessive (split-screens, flashbacks, etc â&) making this work look overly pretentious. Mr. Bonnello's approach is self-important, offering a succession of metaphors and references, whether it's to novels or films (from Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven to Batman's Joker). As a result, The Appolonide looks somewhat questionable, turning into a bore, despite the characters' beauty and appeal.
While we can't contest the fimmaker's talent when it comes to creating a seductive work, his pretentious approach proves to be frustrating, spoiling what could have been a great piece about cultural decline and melancholia. Just like those prostitutes, we end up prisoners â& of a film that do not let us go anywhere.
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