House of Tolerance

November 25th, 2011


House of Tolerance

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House of ToleranceHouse of ToleranceHouse of Tolerance

Release Year: 2011

Rating: 7.3/10 (559 voted)

Critic's Score: 75/100

Director: Bertrand Bonello

Stars: Hafsia Herzi, Céline Sallette, Jasmine Trinca

Hafsia Herzi - Samira
Céline Sallette - Clotilde
Jasmine Trinca - Julie
Adele Haenel - Léa
Alice Barnole - Madeleine
Iliana Zabeth - Pauline
Noémie Lvovsky - Marie-France
Xavier Beauvois -
Louis-Do de Lencquesaing -
Esther Garrel -
Joanna Grudzinska -
Pauline Jacquard -
Laurent Lacotte -
Judith Lou Levy -
Jacques Nolot -

Release Date: 25 November 2011

Box Office Details

Budget: €4,000,000 (estimated)

Gross: $19,327 (USA) (18 December 2011)

Technical Specs


Did You Know?

The casting says "Clotilde" but her name is misspelled (as "Clothilde", rather a common error in France) in the movie when we see the lines of name/debt written by the matron.

User Review

So-so picture of life in a Paris brothel c. 1900


"House of Tolerance" opens with a scene that typifies the film. A gentlemanly client of L'Appollonide, the fictional Paris brothel of the 1890s where the film is set, declines sex with the exotic and likable Madeleine, but requests she instead describe one of her dreams. After she recounts a fantasy of sex with a masked man that ends with her weeping tears of semen, he politely asks permission to tie her to the bed. One she's helpless, he slashes both her cheeks with a knife,leaving her with a permanently disfiguring grin.

In a real-life Paris bordello like Le Chabanais, the establishment that inspired L'Appollonide, Madeleine would have been turned out. Instead, the other prostitutes and its kindly madame, hearts of gold all, rally to protect her. She becomes the house's cook, minds the children, and even, as "The Woman who Laughs", continues to attract jaded aesthetes excited by deformity. In one of the film's more Sadeian scenes, she stars at an orgy involving aging aristocrats, a staff of female servants, all nude, and a sullen black-gowned dwarf.

We see one of the obligatory fortnightly health checks required by the police, and the system of paying the women; clients buy tokens, which the women cash in at the end of the night. Such realism clashes with a Visconti-esque sumptuousness in costumes and decor. The house itself is palatial compared to Le Chabanais, or any real brothel, and the women more attractive than the habitués of even the most elegant establishment.

The film often feels like an anthology, shuffling together episodes and individuals associated with the brothel culture, and not bothering too much about anachronisms. An idyllic country picnic and skinny-dip for the girls evokes the most humanizing of whorehouse stories, Maupassant's "Le Maison Tellier". A client, called only Gustave and content to spend his time in the brothel staring raptly at vaginas, suggests Gustave Courbet, who painted "The Origin of the World", a meticulous but faceless depiction of female pudenda. Courbet, however,died in 1877, well before the period of the film.

Bonello is closer to his time period when he shows a girl being bathed in champagne. The then-Prince of Wales, Victoria's son and later Edward VII, liked to sit around such a bath at Le Chabanais and share the wine with friends. Wine, water and secretions mix promiscuously in the film. In an early scene, whores and clients share champagne from a gilded chamber pot of what should be Sevres porcelain but resembles anodized aluminum. Meanwhile, the girls play a table game using the squirt bulbs normally employed to flush their vaginas. Repeatedly we see women rinsing their mouths after oral sex and washing the sticky residue of wine from their bodies. One woman observes bitterly, "this place stinks of champagne and sperm."

Bonello is at pains to insist on the moral and emotional superiority of the prostitutes over their sentimental, self-absorbed clients – something even the men concede. As one ruefully confesses, "men have secrets, but no mystery." Even Gustave, the most compassionate of the regulars, sees the women as objects. The complaisant Pauline dresses up for him, first in a Japanese kimono, then as a blank-eyed, jerkily moving doll. In a scene reminiscent of Donald Sutherland coupling with a clockwork woman in "Fellini Casanova", her impersonation of a machine excites Gustave in a way flesh and blood never did. As he penetrates her from behind, she stares expressionless at us, the audience, as if to ask, "How like you me now, my masters?"

Returning repeatedly to the mutilation of Madeleine, adding more graphic detail each time, Bonello makes us complicit in her pain. Her endurance and acceptance, like that of all the prostitutes, is transcendental, and appears a kind of martyrdom – an offering to the Apollo for which the house is named. The girl dead of syphilis, the opium addict, and, finally, all the women dumped on the streets when the brothel closes down, have suffered and died for our sins. The last shot of the film drives home the point. Beside a modern highway, the same girls who staffed the L'Appollonide, now in mini-skirts and hot pants, continue to offer sex and salvation to an indifferent male world.


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