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Featured DVD Review: House of Pleasures

May 5th, 2012

House of Pleasures - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Video on Demand

House of Pleasures opened domestically last November, right during the heart of Awards season. It earned great reviews, but competition at that time of year is really tough and it never found an audience in theaters. Now that it is out on the home market, will it perform better? Or is it too "Art House" for wider audiences?

The Movie

The film takes place in a turn of the century Parisian brothel beginning in November of 1899. There's not a lot of what could be called a conventional plot, so I'm not even going to attempt to describe it, but just give a couple early incidents. It's more of the day-to-day events in a brothel that's closing down, many of these events are deeply depressing. Early on we meet one of the prostitutes, Madeleine, who is thought to be the most beautiful among them by some of her fellow prostitutes. She has a regular customer and dreams that he will pay off her debts and take her away. But instead he mutilates her face. We don't even learn how this transpired till later in the movie, but it certainly shocks the audience out of thinking this will be an erotic tale.

We also meet Pauline, the new girl. Before she arrives, a letter is sent by her parents asking Madam Marie-France to please take her in. When she arrives, the Madam asks what she wants and Pauline replies independence. The Madam is nice enough to warn her she won't find it here. What she will find are a lot of rules and the old guard warning the new guard that their debts to the Madam will never be paid off. They are stuck at the whims of their clients without any hope of escaping the brothel and are using alcohol (and in the case of one, opium) to get through.

Like I said, it is a depressing movie. It is also an artfully crafted movie with stunning costumes and art design. The film earned a César for its costumes and nominations for production design and cinematography. It also earned nominations for three of the actresses, and for good reason. It is the camaraderie of these women, brought to life by the strong acting, that is the best part of the film. There is quite a bit if nudity in the movie, but it is far from erotic. It does seem like it is quite a bit more realistic than most portrayals of prostitution. Even wearing elegant dresses and being in beautiful surroundings, they were still prisoners.

The Extras

There are two featurettes, a 16-minute look at the casting, which is mostly audition tapes vs. the final scene from the movie. There is also a 25-minute long making of featurette. This is better than a lot of limited releases, especially foreign language releases. It's hard to have an audio commentary track when the cast and crew speak French and not English. (Although I have seen ones where they have captions that you can set for the movie or the audio commentary track, which is a good solution.)

The Verdict

While House of Pleasures is about prostitution and contains, it is arguably one of the least sexy films I've seen in a while. It is very well made with excellent acting and incredible visuals. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD, but it is worth picking up over the Video on Demand option.

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Filed under: Video Review, L'apollonide - souvenirs de la maison close