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HOUSE OF TOLERANCE

Director: Bertrand Bonello

122 minutes, France, 2011, Subtitled, Colour, D-Cinema Notes by Trevor Johnston


As the 19th century elides into the 20th, a luxurious and traditional Paris bordello is the setting for director Bertrand Bonello’s trenchant exploration of the relationship between capital, labour and sex. Opting out of the privations of working-class toil, these girls choose a life in the ‘maison close’ instead, where they’re sheltered, fed and dressed, but there’s obviously another side to the bargain. Sisterly comradeship has its compensations, but as this ensemble drama lays out the rituals of sexual slavery, we’re left in no doubt about the cost of escaping the backstreets.

Bonello uses modern music cues and visual cutaways to remind us that exploitation is hardly a thing of the past, yet his film is especially striking in the way its seductive surface plays against its steely analysis, offering a fusion of Visconti and Pasolini with images as intoxicating as they are corrosive. Beauty and horror, fantasy and defilement shape telling contrasts in this intelligent and daring cinematic provocation. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.) 

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