Sunday, January 8, 2012

House of Pleasures (L'Apollonide: Souvenirs de la maison close)

We were in the mood for a movie and this was playing at the Bijou, so we saw it:  House of Pleasures is the title it was playing under here (L'Apollonide: Souvenirs de la maison close is the original title).

Mrs. Sgt. T and I, discussing it on the way home, decided that it was about 60% a movie with serious artistic aims, and 40% the kind of softcore Europorn that an adolescent boy in the '80s would have stayed up late to try to catch on Cinemax. 

The 40% I won't bore you with - we're old enough and mature enough to take that for what it's worth, which isn't quite nothing.  The 60% is worth mentioning:  beautiful sets and art direction, fine acting and writing, and some quite effective formal experimentation.  Reviews all mention the use of late 20th century pop in the soundtrack, but it's much less intrusive here than in, say, a Baz Luhrmann film.  They also all mention the splitscreen photography - sometimes the screen is divided into quadrants - but what they don't mention is that this doesn't feel gimmicky at all, but rather quite effective in an almost documentary way, telescoping a lot of information about how this kind of business is run into a short time.

The Tanuki and his Mrs. can't be quite objective about this film, however, because both of us are specialists in traditional Japanese culture, with a particular interest in Edo pleasure district culture.  And it was astonishing how familiar the world of l'Apollonide felt to the world of the Yoshiwara.  Same kinds of financial arrangements between the girls and their owners, same kind of decorative and architectural strategies employed to make the interior of the brothel feel like a fantasy world, some of the same narrative tropes used to explore the world.  Not all:  the kind of jealousy that drives Sakuran, for instance, isn't really part of this film. 

Anyway, I know nothing at all about turn-of-the-century French brothel culture, so I have no idea if Bonello's film is true to it, or if he's adopting geisha stereotypes (he cleverly works in geisha imagery in one scene, but it's authentic enough to the great days of japonisme that I'm not sure if it means he's drawing a parallel, or just that his characters are).  But it worked.  And the fact that we've spent years working through our issues with this kind of milieu probably explains how easy it was for us to connect with the 60%, whereas many viewers might see only the 40%.

No comments: