There are four French films in the Main Competition at this year’s Cannes festival, a number that is generally seen as a set figure from year to year. That number can get a bit hazy when it comes to defining either a filmmaker’s nationality or shooting locations or funding support, but we can at least count on four, French-born directors every year. There is no ambiguity with Bertrand Bonello’s newest film House of Tolerance (L’Apollonide – souvenirs de la maison close), though, as the film was shot near Paris, and Bonello himself was actually born in Nice, a spitting distance from Cannes’ shore. His career has stayed pretty closely tied to the festival since then, too; his last three films (out of five total) have all had their world premieres there, and while his film Tiresia was participating in the 2003 Competition – I kid you not – his first daughter was being born.
House of Tolerance appears to be a very Romantically gothic addition to his oeuvre. The still images that have surface can be easily confused with Renaissance paintings, and I found the imagery to actually be quite evocative of Werner Shroeter’s final film, the grotesque Nuit de chien. A nude beauty slouches in a chair, surrounded by costumed peers, or strangers, or circus performers, while the makeup artist shows off his best Joker impression. It’s haunting, indeed, and promises for a sensual viewing experience.
The eerie plot synopsis reads as follows: “At the dawn of the 20th century in a brothel in Paris, a man disfigures a prostitute for life. She is marked with a scar that draws a tragic smile on her face. Around the laughing woman, the life of other girls, their rivals, their fears, their joys, their pain… From the outside world, nothing is known. Their doors are closed.” See the film’s equally seductive poster below, which also lists off the films impressive cast: