Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I imagine that "some people" would find House of Tolerance to be a a tedious, languid, and possibly plotless mediation on the Parisian bordellos of La Belle Epoque, but I would assume such people did not sit through The Turin Horse, which I had the delight of spending two and a half hours being throughly annihilated by. So in that context, House of Tolerance seems paced fairly rapidly. And, it is starkly beautiful.

I came out of the theater enchanted by the film. I also came out believing that someone had actually made the kind of film that I want to see-- and in my opinion, the kind of film that should be pushed more enthusiastically upon other human beings. House of Tolerance is actually kind of like Moulin Rouge! except it's not a nauseating and irritating musical directed by Baz Luhrmann. House of Tolerance is the film that people who like Moulin Rouge! should like, because it is an intelligent and interesting exploration of the same prostitutes-in-Paris shit, with an equally anachronistic soundtrack.

With that out of the way, the reason I like House of Tolerance is because it is a period piece that doesn't resemble a period piece. A lot of period pieces, remarkably, have the same cloying qualities. They all seem to be shot the same way and paced the same way, and some of them are interesting, but I think the trappings of this genre are really a problem-- spectacle settings and sweeping scores and the alienating sort of melodrama. I mean, sure, Mysteries of Lisbon is a masterpiece, but did it have to be so goddamn... expansive?

House of Tolerance feels contrastingly intimate. All of the girls live in the same in the house, and due to laws involving soliciting, very rarely leave. The only scenes set outside of the house are on their one day off in a rural idyll. It is this intimacy that makes these characters feel like real people who could exist along side us, and not just paragons of days gone by.

The anachronistic soundtrack is also an asset to the film. I find that period pieces can be bogged down by trying very very hard to be true to the period, they can also suffer when the conjured period feels false. Perhaps this film opens with music from the 1960s because Bertrand Bonello wanted to avoid the audience searching for anachronisms-- it seems right off the bat that he obviously does not give a fuck about anachronisms.

Because of all of this, I was able to enjoy House of Tolerance. It freed me from my petty dislike of tiresome epics, and felt fresh and modern despite being set in 1900. Each character has their own quiet plot that moves amongst the men (who are mostly portrayed with flat personalities. This film is not about them.) The shots are interesting, the colors are vibrant, and everything is styled impeccably. It is naturally laden with constant female nudity and sex, so the graphic violence is what draws gasps.The film is a gorgeous fantasy world that is easily broached by the audience. If more films were like this, perhaps House of Tolerance wouldn't sparkle as seductively, but it would be much easier to become lost in and consumed by cinema in general.


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