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3.5 out of 5 stars
House of Tolerance [DVD]
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 11 November 2014
This takes place in a Paris brothel just before and just after the start of the 20th century. While there is a lot of nudity and sex, the film is almost always anti-erotic, as it is so clear that the women are less than enthusiastic participants. Interestingly, I found the only moments with any erotic charge were moments between the women themselves, who support each other in what amounts to indentured servitude. Occasionally we feel the heat of human connection between them in a look, a touch, and that is far more sensual than anything they share with their clients, which is often degrading, and occasionally violent.

Indeed, I've seen a lot of complaints about the film not being 'sexy', which of course is part of the whole point. But I think the advertising, cover images, etc. can understandably lead people to expect a hot soft-core porn experience, and not a thoughtful, deliberately paced, and socially political art-film.

The film is a look at the trap poor women found themselves in, when being a prostitute was one of the only ways to make your own money, and other professions had just as many drawbacks (one woman speaks of giving up being a washer-woman because her lungs were becoming damaged from breathing ammonia all day). But the irony is, the 'expenses' of being a well kept prostitute (from room and board to perfume) are more than the women can take in, so they inevitably fall deeper and deeper into debt. Like sharecroppers, they soon 'owe their soul to the company store'.

This isn't a naturalistic film in the usual sense. It jumps around in time - something we sometimes only realize because we'll see a moment we'd watched earlier happen a second time, but in this case from a new perspective or in a new context. It's 'slow' by our usual standards, and is less about plot than about captured moments that build to something larger. It also uses anachronistic, modern music to great effect. But for all it's intentional artifice, there is a feeling of an honest sort of hyper-reality here. In the same way a poem can capture the feeling of a sunny day better than a lot of scientific explanation, so too does this poetic film capture a complex and sad world in a way that lets you feel a sense of understanding and empathy more than straight forward naturalism might.

The film-making itself is of a very high order. The cinematography and acting are both first rate, and there is a sequence near the end that combined acting, images and music to give me chills in the rare way sequences by great film-makers can sometimes do. Not every choice works, but this is a bold, challenging and emotional film. It doesn't tell you what to think, it just creates a world, invites you inside and allows you to draw your own conclusions. I suspect I will get even more from it on a second viewing.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2014
The photography is pleasant, the acting is good and the characters are believable. The issue is that the whole piece lacks a plot, and, considering that the individual pieces are not particularly clever, this is an issue. It is a fair fictional treatment of the situation in premium brothels that use to exist in Paris (I am too young to have had first hand experience -- would not have been my social class anyway). It shows camaraderie, violence, motivations of the workers, the client-worker-retainer relationships, the real risks of the trade and some more.

Watch it for the pictures, take in the individual scenes, feel with the actors but do not expect anything memorable from this film.
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67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on 14 August 2012
Images from this film haunted me for days after seeing it. Some people might find it too explicit and be made uncomfortable by some of the threads of the story. It is not a comfortable film and issues are raised that are not portrayed in black and white, so be prepared. It's characters are complex. The choice of music at times appears a little strange but somehow this emphasises and captures the imagery. The choice of music is one of the things that make it haunting. It can also be interpreted by people in different ways depending upon their perceptions. It is is a film of high calibre and it is clear why it won so many awards. The subtitles are good so don't pass this film by if you don't speak French. It is a distinctly French film.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 26 November 2012
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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2014
I caught this on sky arts channel late at night, but I couldn't recommend it. There is pretty much no plot, just a series of disconnected things that happen. If the film had a point to make, I missed it. Mostly, I found it weird and sometimes very disturbing. Some things just don't add up. One women gets horribly disfigured, and it doesn't seem to get a reaction from the other girls. Even the victim herself seems strangely resigned about the whole thing. And then, towards the end, the filmakers play modern music over scenes, which really jarred. Who thought it would be a good idea to play the Moody Blues 'Nights in White Satin' during a film set in France in the 1880's? It's one of those films that people think is 'high art' and give it lots of accolades. It's not art, it's just odd. The only positive things to say are the actors are clearly talented, and, at least the women who played the prostitutes showed a realistic selection of body types (there is a lot of full on nudity). But, there are so many good films out there, I wouldn't bother watching this.
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51 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on 18 June 2012
Loved all about this film , so lovely to look at , rather like a painting coming to life . Decadent , horrible and showing the brothel in all its disgust and disease . This isnt action packed nor arousing but I certainly couldnt look away . Im guessing this wont be a film to every ones taste but to me its a brave attempt.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The film depicts life inside a Parisan brothel at the turn of the century. It's very stylised and undoubtedly well made. Gently paced and with little plot, at two hours it's a little slow going at times. Despite the (perhaps overly) beautiful women and the lavish costumes, the overall effect is pretty depressing and I suspect that's the intent. The girls are mostly represented as victims, though their clients are perhaps surprisingly depicted in a mainly generous light. There's a neat twist at the end to draw the film to a satisfying close, but it's not a film I could find myself recommending to too many people.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2014
Beautiful girls - interesting that the actors in the opening credits are all female - the men have only a small part in the film (ha ha). Beautifully filmed but oh dear, how boring. I watched the film emotionless, not the erotic or voyeristic piece I was expecting. And a strange choice of music!. When one girl dies the others are dancing to the sound of the Moody Blues' Nights in White Satin -at the turn of the 20th century? - weird!
I was almost relieved to reach the end. Am I missing something here?
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 23 April 2014
French screenwriter and director Bertrand Bonello`s fifth feature film which he also wrote, scored and co-produced with Kristina Larsen is a French production. It tells the story of numerous prostitutes living and working at a Parisian brothel run by Madame Marie-France near the end of the 19th century. Most of the women who lives at the mansion get along fine with their customers and one of them is evolving a relationship with a regular customer. Clotilde, known as the Jewess, shares her dreams with this man and one night after having been away for two weeks, he returns to the house of tolerance. Clotilde tells the man of a dream she has had about him and plays along to fulfill his desires, but during the session he cut`s her with a knife. Following the horrific incident, Clotilde is left with a disfigured face, loses many of her customers and is given the name, the woman who laughs.

Subtly and acutely directed by Bertrand Bonello, this visually distinct interior period drama which is seen and narrated from the point of view of the prostitutes, draws a detailed, involving and intimate portrayal of their ritualistic lives at a brothel, during the twilight and the dawn of the 20th century in Paris, France. With a stringent narrative structure and while depicting several minor studies of character, this finely paced, somewhat surreal and historic study of prostitution presents a closed world marked by socializing, boredom, decadence, sadness and fantasies, where the women shares their experiences with each other, and creates a reverent depiction of their strong and private unification. Notable for its brilliant set decoration by Alain Guffroy, costume design by Anaïs Romand and the picturesque cinematography by Josée Deshaies, this is a low-keyed, melancholic, symbolic, darkly romantic and dreamlike tale of a descending utopia.

The efficient score by Bertrand Bonello emphasizes the mysterious and poignant atmosphere in this grotesque, tangible and fictional chamber piece, which is impelled and reinforced by the understated acting performances from a cast consisting of both professional and non-professional actors and actresses such as French actress Hafsia Herzi, French actress Céline Sallette, Italian actress Jasmine Trinca, French actress Adèle Haenel, French actress Esther Garrel, French actress, screenwriter and director Noémie Lvovsky, French actor, screenwriter and director Xavier Beauvois and Alice Barnole and Iliana Zabeth in their debut feature film roles. A compassionate declaration of love to women and cinema, which was screened in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival in 2011 and which gained the César Award for Best Costume Design Anaïs Romand at the 37th César Awards in 2012.
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on 2 January 2015
Superb exploration of prostitution in Paris at the birth of the 20th Century. Everything is here, the decadence, the diseases, the crimes and the effects on the girl's lives. All that aside, this is a visually beautiful film that will keep you enchanted throughout with its haunting, sensual lighting and its incredible palette of colours. Very highly recommended.
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