On the contrary to the title, pleasure seems to remain superficial and allows torture and pain to settle in and engulf its audience.
While Bertrand Bonello's film (that was nominated for last year's Palme d'Or at Cannes) is titled House of Pleasures over here (instead of the original "House of Tolerance" that felt more apt), do not expect highly of its suggestive title but instead allow Bonello to take you into the realm of a Parisian brothel from the early years of 1899-1900.
Staring at a saturation of skin, incessant pleasure calls, and an abundance of champagne, one cannot help but become stunningly amazed at the possibility of not experiencing the slightest pleasure. Through the use of haunting music that often instills the feel of opium daze and laze, the atmosphere turns frightening and gradually closes in with a tight grasp around one's windpipes to challenge tolerance.
How's one able to withstand the witnessing of the daily routine life of seemingly miserable prostitutes over an extended 122 minutes of running time? The profession's routine kept on looping itself over and over, with the insertion of sadistic traits coming from none other than the rich and powerful in the society.
There's one who inhesitantly sliced open the cheeks of a helplessly tied up innocent prostitute, Madeleine - who was later nicknamed "The Woman Who Laughs", with a small knife after the words "I pay, I say" during intercourse. Most bewildering of all is a high society orgy session that gathers various "freaks of deformity" in any form to subject them to submissive sexual mockery.
A possible evil syndrome of those on the higher hierachy of our society.
On the other hand, the film caters an invaluable look into the intrinsic daily routine of prostitutes in a Parisian brothel. The girls are to wash themselves thoroughly clean and to smell good and appear pleasant. They are to stay until their patron leaves, but they are allowed to sleep late and wake up at any hour of their wish. There's order and rules instilled just like any discipline of work, mind you.
It's a profession, just like any other.
The Ladies choose to hide behind the façade of joy that induces pleasure upon their lucky male patrons. Behind the façade beholds a lot of woes and difficulties untold and unheard of if not for Bonello's camera.
Disturbingly is a Lady who just turned the tender age of 16, writing in to seek the ways of a prostitute by recommendation of her parents. Pessimism is self-indulgent here where moralities and self-consciousness are thrown out of the house for materialistic selfish gains.
The pleasure of men at the dire expense of prostitutes.
While the film's title and poster may suggest a apparent softcore pornographic B-film, it's on the contrary a suffocating arthouse film that portrays prostitutes in a different light. The House of Pleasures is a challenging cinematic delight.