A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Bertrand Bonello's "House of Pleasures" is a morose elegy to the decline of a luxurious Parisian bordello, circa 1900, a closed world in which prostitutes and their clients glide like sleepwalkers through the motions of sex. Elegant and detailed production design creates L'Apollonide, a high-priced whorehouse on a respectable boulevard, where a madam and her women of commerce lead a life as cloistered as in a convent, or a prison.
In only one scene, a swimming party on a riverbank, are the girls allowed outside. The house supplies all their needs. There is a stately entrance hall with marble statuary and a staircase leading up to a drawing room that is a cocoon of overstuffed sofas, plush cushions, Oriental rugs, ancient brass lamps, candles, sometimes music on a piano. Here rich men languish with champagne and tobacco while beautiful young women, expensively dressed or undressed, cuddle and caress them, and the madam's sleek black panther dozes on a velvet settee. Occasionally they go upstairs.
The house rules specify that the prostitutes remain on duty until the last client has gone home, but they can sleep as late as they wish. This is in a lazy dormitory, a separate private area. The women sleep three to a bed like sisters, eat together around the same jolly table on which they submit to medical examinations, bathe together, dress and groom one another, gossip and console. They lead comfortable lives and always look fashionable, not for their comfort but for the clients.
Why do they come here to work? None have been forced. All are almost immediately in a state of servitude. L'Apollonide charges them for room, board, clothing, everything. From the first ,they are in arrears to Marie-France (Noemie Lvovsky), the madam, and they dream of a client who will free them by paying off their debts. Some have been there 10 years and tell the young ones with resignation that they will never escape. Yet the house has a good name, and a provincial girl not yet 16 comes with a letter of application at the urging of her parents.