Monday, April 02, 2012

'House of Pleasures'
Plays at SF Film Society Cinema

The new French film playing over at the San Francisco Film Society Cinema, "House of Pleasures", is one of the most anti-erotic films I've ever seen. Set in a Parisian bordello as the 20th century is dawning, we follow lives of the middle-age woman who owns the establishment and the younger women who live and work there.

Much of the film is shot in a style echoing the distinctive use of black shadows and backgrounds used by painter Edouard Manet, that is a terrific contrast to the rich, colorful outfits and adornments the working girls wear lounging around the parlor entertaining men of wealth.

Watching them go through their daily routines of intercourse then hygienic acts to ward off sexual infection, getting all dolled up with make up and perfumes, getting drunk on champagne or high on opium, we slowly learn the prostitutes are deeply in debt to the madame and why they little hope of a better life.

There was a strong glorification of the prostitutes as victims and borderline misogyny. One women suffers a brutal facial scarring by a customer that leaves her resembling Heath Ledger as The Joker in "Batman", who recovers from the ordeal then charges a higher price just to sit with men and talk to them.

The scenes leading up to the brutality, and its bloody aftermath, are shown a few times before the movie is over and I had to cover my eyes anytime there was a hint of those scenes about to unspool again.

While the production values are of the highest order and the acting is uniformly excellent, and the film held my interest, the story left a lot to be desired. No particular insight was gleaned after spending two-hours with these characters.

With thirty-minutes to go before the end, eight patrons trickled out of the theater and was curious what forced them to leave when they did. I spoke with a middle-aged woman afterward who gave the movie a big thumbs down.

"The film made me queasy," she said. "It was Euro-trash gussied up as art but it couldn't hide the hatred toward the prostitutes." I certainly understood where she was coming from with her comments.

The "House of Pleasure" plays through April 5 at the SF Film Society Cinema located on Post Street near Webster. Click here for ticket info and showtimes.

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