It is the ethos of this website that there is no such thing as a bad film, House of Tolerance puts this theory to the ultimate test.
Bertrand Bonello’s tale of a brothel at the turn of the century Paris is an early contender for worst film of the year and possibly one of the worst films I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen Crank. That film is abysmal due to its atrocious premise, poor acting, rubbish dialogue, terrible directing and House of Tolerance has most of the same attributes with one added bonus – it tries to pass off puerile one dimensional bilge as moody metaphorical art house.
The film centers around a group of prostitutes who work for Marie-France (Noemie Lvovsky) and the clients that frequent her premises. The goal of each of the girls is to find a man who will pay off their debts and free them from Marie-France, many arrive intending only to stay for some months and in the blink of an eye twelve years have past. One of the main characters is Madeleine, she has been resident for a number of years and has fallen madly for one of the clients and regards the feeling to be mutual. However this is not the case and results in a rather shocking scene of violence which the director keeps returning too for mere shock value.
My second issue concerns one of the most ludicrous scenes ever committed to celluloid. We are with Madeleine again and her favourite client as she proceeds to tell him about a dream she had the previous night. She reveals that in the dream she is so filled with the clients sperm it wells up inside her and she cries warm white tears. Now lets just let that sink in for a moment shall we. OK, now as stupidly juvenile dialogue as this is, it would have been forgiven until in one of the last moments of the film there is actually that very scene of Madeleine crying warm white tears of semen. If a recently turned teenage boy had made this then I possible could let it slide but when you realise a fully grown man has put this together it boggles the mind.
Due to the terrible dialogue, it was written by the director as well, the characters are all one dimensional caricatures left floundering aimlessly to find some realism. There is not one ounce of originality in the portrayal of the prostitutes or the men who avail of their services, only tired empty performances seen many times before.
The final and possibly most heinous crime is the use of modern music in the film. The film is a period piece with quite good attention to detail (hence the half a star) so the introduction of contemporary music really jars and doesn’t work. As the director is unable to conjure any real emotions from his actors he must rely on songs such as Nights in White Satin to adequately portray what he fails so miserably to do.
The ending, which with a running time of 2hrs can not come soon enough, is another painfully obvious and shallow metaphor that will leave anyone who has seen more than two films cringing. This film made me so angry at having wasted two hours of my life and what made me even angrier is that this will probably be paraded as an amazingly bold and challenging art house film.
This is not art house, it’s vacuous muck.
France / Directed By: Bertrand Bonello / Written By: Bertrand Bonello / Starring: Hafsia Herzi, Céline Sallette, Jasmine Trinca / 122min / Drama / Release: 25 November 2011 (US), 27 January 2012 (Irl/UK)