Friday, 28 October 2011

L’Appollonide – House of Tolerance

I wish that I hadn’t seen this film last night.  The title sequence came after an introduction set at the end of the 19th century.   It was accompanied by soul music and I was unimpressed by this juxtaposition.  The wake, near the end of the film, which is held for one of the girls who dies rather rapidly from venereal disease, was accompanied by the Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin”!  By then I hated almost everything about it. 

The film was written and directed by Bertrand Bonello.  In the hands of a cinematic genius this can really work, but M. Bonello is no genius.  The man clearly has no friends, or at least none that he listens to, or that dare to give him an honest opinion!  His writing and directing was self indulgent in the extreme.   The events leading up to the central violent act, in which one of the clients disfigures a girl, were repeated numerous times.  To dwell almost lovingly on this disgusting scene was unnecessary, it was horrific enough to see the results. Twice the same girl describes a dream in which she cries, and her tears are the sperm that the same man has left inside her. Verbally this was a powerful image, but near the end there was certainly no need to show it visually, it just looked ridiculous!

I have never seen a brothel portrayed as a sort of upmarket funeral parlour where everyone talks in hushed tones but no music is playing.  If this was meant to convey the sadness of the women's plight surely it would have been better to try to contrast scenes of public gaiety with private sadness.  In this film there was just gloom and, in spite of the nudity, precious little eroticism.  It was hard to imagine any client wanting to come back after the first visit!

Clearly the director was imposing his personal view of the situation in which these women found themselves, and this took priority over telling a credible story.  Cinematically it was not, however, entirely badly made.  The use of masks in one of the later seances, combined with the foreknowledge of violence, successfully created high tension.  It heightened the viewer's awareness of the risks that women in this profession always run. 

In the final scene, after the brothel had closed, we were jerked back to the present day so that M. Bonello could show that prostitution still exists.  Well of course it does, but it wasn't necessary to show the same Parisian location in the 21st century with prostitutes working the streets nearby!   Perhaps it was included to further display M. Bonello's social conscience and awareness?  Making a point in such heavy handed way is typical of this film.  The director may have been pleading for the legalization of prostitution, but within this story, the protected environment of the "maison close" still didn't protect the women. 

This film is far too long and repetitive.  It oscillates between being boring and dwelling unacceptably on violence.  If anyone felt it was worth the effort it should be recut by an experienced film-maker and reduced in length by about 20 to 30 minutes.

I left this film profoundly angry and I don’t recommend it to anyone!


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