03 Apr 2012


French whores with painted faces in ornate dresses smoking opium near the turn of the century appear lost and sad and beautiful in Bertrand Bonello’s House of Tolerance (L’Apollonide Souvenirs de la maison close/ 2011). The audience is given an uncensored view of an upscale French brothel somewhere along the Parisian countryside where repetitive nights seem endless, save the occasional lazy afternoon spent near the river, mutilation, new girl or syphilitic episode.

Attractive, naive and doomed, these kept women sleep away the days, “entertain” by night and persevere by filling their heads with superstitions and delusions of happier, liberated futures.

Bonello’s whores of L’Apollonide are dejected and enchanting. The (often uncomfortable) reality of the indulgent lifestyle is as depressing as it is whimsical.  The diseases, mental health, hygiene, sexual perversions, camaraderie and feminine endurance help to create a fascinating and esoteric world.  Though the film has its moments of heavy-handedness, the intoxicating visuals are enough to keep one  under a smokey haze of delight.

Semen tears, enchanted panthers, opium addiction, face-cutting, the clap, mysticism, French-ness and commerce…


John walked along a narrow back-road filled with love-hotels and sex salons. The shops were colorful. Garish signs advertised vague services in neon light:




A man stood half shadowed beneath a street lamp, smoking a cigarette. He spoke directly and quietly while looking at the pavement.

“You want sex? You like fuck?”

Rows of places stretched up to the night sky adorned with illustrations of women in their underwear.

John walked for a while. He bought tall can-beers from a convenience store on Dogenzaka. There were hookers standing in small groups outside. John smoked. He wondered if they were hookers. A girl walked up to him and  pulled on his elbow. Her hand was very small.


“No thanks,” John said. He wanted one.

“Cheap massage. Three thousand yen,” she said. She had a dark, round face. Her jacket was long and shapeless. She wore it open and it covered her tapered blue jeans. John thought she did not look like a prostitute. He was reminded of mothers pushing children through supermarkets.

“ Maybe later,” John said. She walked away. She said something in a language that sounded like Mandarin to a girl near her. The girl walked over. She was young and her face looked regal and clean.

“Do you want relaxing service?” she said. “Mouth service?” She pushed her lips out into the shape of a kiss and smiled.

John smiled back.