Bertrand Bonello


Best films:
, /10
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Bertrand Bonello

the erotic drama The Pornographer (2001)

Tiresia (2003)

L'Apollonide - Souvenirs de la Maison Close/ House of Pleasures (2011) doesn't have much of a plot: it's a series of tableux that depict the daily life of prostitutes in a fin-de-siecle brothel. Nonetheless it feels like an involuntary summary of a century of undercurrents in multiple arts: Edouard Manet's painting of a naked prostitute "Olympia" (1865), Victor Hugo's novel "L'Homme qui Rit" (1869) for the scarred woman and Arthur Schnitzler's novella "Dream Story" (1926) for the masked party, the mistreated prostitutes of the film noir, like in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat (1953), the sexual perversion of the bourgeoisie, from Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour (1966) to Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salo' or the 120 days of Sodom" (1975) to Peter Greenaway's The Cook The Thief His Wife And Her Lover (1989), the idealized microcosm of the brothel in films like Hsia-Hsien Hou's Les Fleurs de Shanghai (1998) and Louis Malle's Pretty Baby (1978), set in a New Orleans brothel of 1917, the cacophonous split-screen technique of John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix (1966) and John McTiernan's The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), or, even better, of Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls (1966), that follows the lives of girls in a New York hotel. It is obvious that the heroines of the story have no future, but their future is not the point of the film: the way they live while being aware of that future is the point of the film. Sensuality is not the center of mass of the story, but it is certainly created by Josee Deshaies's lascivious cinematography and Anais Romand's voluptuous costumes.

The film takes place in Paris at the time of the Dreyfus affair. Marie runs a high-class brothel. Initially the focus is on Madeleine, nicknamed "Jewess". She has a loyal client, Jacques, but she has sinister premotions in the form of a dream: that he will give her an emerald, she will ask him if it's a marriage proposal, he will not answer and instead, wearing a white mask, he will assault her and his sperm will travel inside her body and flow out of her eyes in the form of tears. The girls keep themselves clean and dress elegantly for their elegant clientele. Before the clients arrive, the camera lingers on their intimate conversations. The madame, Marie, reads a letter from an aspiring prostitute, the 15-year-old Pauline. During the party with the clients, all the girls move their wet fingers on their glasses to produce noise. Madeleine's man wants to tie her up and she lets him do it: he cuts her mouth with a knife, leaving her screaming with blood all over her face. Her premonition has come true. Julie, nicknamed "Caca", who is Italian, is treated to a ride to the countryside by her man, Maurice. The madame interviews the aspiring teenager and makes sure she has no scars, is on good health, and has obtained a permit. Pauline is assigned to Clothilde's room, who told her man that she is 28 and has been doing this for 12 years (hence she started at the same age). Clothilde instructs her to never go out alone, to wash and perfume herself, and how to entertain the clients. While the girls wait for customers, they talk about the debts that turned them into prostitutes. At the end of the night, the girls trade reports on their night, how many men they have to serve: four, five, six, ... Marie writes a letter to a powerful friend: she is a widow with two children and cannot afford the rent increase. She may have to close the brothel and at her age there is no other profession for her. A prostitute is forced by her man to move around like a doll and then bend, before the man takes her from behind. Marie takes the girls at a picnic by the river. The prefect replies to Marie that he cannot help her, and one of the girls sees the letter. Her man dumps Clothilde for the new girl, the 16-year-old, dressed in a kimono and pretending to speak Japanese. The girls have to undergo lengthy gynecological visits. The doctor finds out that Samira was pregnant (and most likely had an abortion) and that Julie has syphilis. A girl cries reading a book on prostitutes that describes them as perverted criminals. Marie has an argument with Clothilde, who is addicted to opium. Maurice writes a letter to Julie that he cannot risk catching the disease, and Marie tears it up so Julie will never read it. A group of rich people hires Madeleine for a special party at a classy restaurant, with naked girls as waitresses. They undress the scarred Madeleine and gets excited touching her. Meanwhile at the brothel the girls chat anxious about their future. Julie dies and the girls dance sadly among themselves, crying for Julie's death. Madeleine has recurring nightmares about her incident. On a national holiday the prostitutes and their clients wear masks. Someone mentions the opening of the metro. The party also celebrates the end of the brothel. Samira's man has paid her debt and "bought" her. The others will be sold to other brothels. Madeleine cries sperm, just like in her old dream. The last two minutes show a street of modern Paris, with prostitutes waiting for customers. A car stops and a prostitute comes out who looks like Clothilde (played by the same actress). Saint Laurent (2014)
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