L'APOLLONIDE - SOUVENIRS DE LA MAISON CLOSE
HOUSE OF TOLERANCE
You don't really need to see a roomful of grieving prostitutes slow-dance to The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin" to understand French director Bertrand Bonello's film is not your average take on the world's oldest profession. Self-consciously, if passionately and no-holds-barred, artistic, this tale of the last few months in the life of the Apollonide, a 1900 Parisian brothel about to close down to make way for new (and not necessarily better) times, plays out as a deliriously gentle hallucination under the influence of a psychotropic substance. Jumbling time and space into dreamy flashbacks and flash-forwards, Mr. Bonello depicts daily life in the Apollonide (and, by extension, in old-fashioned «red light houses») as an improbable, cocooned haven where women could find a measure of freedom denied to them in the parochial, patriarchal outside society of turn-of-the-19th-century Paris. In doing so, he completely eschews any exploitative or titillating conception of the naked body to focus on prostitution as a job and on its practitioners as working girls following a specific set of rules.
Exquisitely realised as a fever dream of lust and fancy inside a protected space, an erotic realm where fantasy can come true at a cost (and one that can occasionally turn out to be too high), Mr. Bonello's languid moodpiece slowly envelops the viewers in its poetic, poisonous charms, relying on Josée Deshaies' richly luxuriant photography, Alain Guffroy's cozy sets and elegantly tuned performances from a strong ensemble cast. The result is an intriguing, seductive collision between David Cronenberg's J. G. Ballard adaptation Crash (from which it retains the unholy attraction for the beauty of the uncanny and offbeat) and Abdellatif Kechiche's overpowering Vénus noire (with which it shares its desire to challenge traditional representations of the outcast and downcast), filtered through the director's own fascination with close-knit groups placed outside the rigid social boxes - not only of the period, but also of our own time.
Director, writer, composer, Bertrand Bonello; cinematography, Josée Deshaies (colour by Éclair); production designer, Alain Guffroy; costume designer, Anaïs Romand; editor, Fabrice Rouaud; producers, Kristina Larsen, Mr. Bonello (Les Films du Lendemain, My New Picture in co-production with ARTE France Cinéma), France, 2010, 125 minutes.
Screened: Medeia Monumental 2 (Lisbon), January 14th 2011.
L' Apollonide trailer por Flixgr