house of pleasures

"This place stinks of champagne and sperm." So it goes in the opulent House of Pleasures (2011), an atmospheric French film about a fin de si├Ęcle Parisian bordello. Originally titled L'Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close), and also released as House of Tolerance, there's very little story here. Instead, we're given moments, marvelous and mundane, of life in a whorehouse. Visually ravishing, with sumptuous sets and costumes, this film is the very definition of languid. It's steeped in decadence, an opium dream drifting into a slow-motion nightmare. Soft-core kitsch or understated masterpiece? That's up to the viewer to decide. What can't be denied is that House of Pleasures is beautiful, thought-provoking, and ultimately quite sad, showing how intertwined pleasure and pain can often be.

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