I found the film "House of Tolerance" to provide a very enjoyable viewing experience, but felt there were a few elements that detracted from its' potential appeal - causing me to back-off a little from a full 5 star rating.. As other reviewers have noted, high praise may be given for the visual quality of the film - it presents many stunning and memorable tableaux of period erotica and lovely women which, in themselves, are, perhaps, exceptional enough to warrent purchasing the DVD.
The setting of the movie shows the internal workings of a high-class Parisian bordello at the turn of the (previous) century when many aspects of European society were shifting and a few 'time jumps' are included that (somewhat nebulously) track the situations experienced by the 'house' and its' comely inhabitants over a period of decades.
The plot primarily follows the lives of the girls who work in the bordello and their interactions with the gentlemen callers who avail themselves of their 'services' - which range from tender and poignant to downright horrible. By focusing on the 'women' and their issues in a realistic way the director removes much of the sexiness that one might expect from a film that deals with the 'play for pay' lifestyle that is being presented. Despite MANY scenes featuring attractive & exotic female nudity, and sexual situations - the film is strangely un-arousing in a titillating way and becomes almost feminist in the perspective that is provided. "House of Tolerance" depicts a slice of life from an esoteric world that was unique to its' time and place.
The negative factors that I, personally, found a little distracting would include: a lack of real empathy being developed for the female characters & some elements of the music track. On the first point - even though the director attempted to follow the threads of several of the prostitutes affairs & experiences the viewer doesn't really get to develop much sympathy for them because their relationships are so superficial and there are A LOT of characters involved - but perhaps this is intentionally analagous to the superficiality of the world of prostitution!? At a certain point I found the film became a bit tedious as it tracked the multiplicity of evolving plot elements to their inevitable, generally rather sad, conclusions. There were several times where it felt the film could have ended on a powerful note - but it kept going back for 'one more scene'. On the musical front - there were some interesting and creative choices in the music track that brought, anachronistic, modern 'blues' tunes into the Victorian Period scenes to good effect BUT who-ever 'mixed' the sound created some jarring inconsistencies in the volume level that, unfortunately, detracted from their potential effectiveness.
Despite these awkwardnesses, the film does manage to convey a sense of the reality of the character's circumstances and environment of the period, and the director creates some memorable images & situations. Perhaps my favorite scene was 'cued' by a haunting musical sound, almost like an electronic theramin, that turns out to be several of the 'girls' & their clients amusing themselves in the parlour by making their crystal champagne glasses 'sing' by running their wet fingers around the rims and filling the house with the eerie tones. One of many vignettes that capture a vanished time and life-style of decadence, social inequity, and beauty - which, as they can tend to, commingle somewhat uncomfortably in the 'world's oldest profession'.
Over-all though, this is a compelling ( and long! - 155 min.) watch that can stand up to multiple viewings in order to fully grasp and appreciate the level of sumptuous exotic detail and plot intricacies. Definitely worth a look - for both sexes.