House of Tolerance (L’Apollonide: Souvenirs de la maison close)

waiting for their clients at night.

This is a very very sad story or stories of women

The glory of la belle Époque in the 1900 – the age of photograph, automobile and aeroplane – shines so bright that cast a long shadow over a forgotten group of people – the prostitutes.

The lush setting – soft sofa, richly woven carpet, exotic oriental painting – and subtle yellow light that lowly illuminates the classic Roman architecture were unfortunately tainted with the smell of champagne and perhaps unavoidably sperm.

The director’s documentary attention to details renders Memoir of Geisha like a pulp fiction while the lavish setting adds a richly texture element that Whispers And Moans (性工作者十日談) does not have.

That is the House of Tolerance, the place where the high – ends prostitutes ‘do business’, live and get abused. ‘Can I tie you up?’ asked a rich client. ‘Yes, you may’, Madeleine or the ‘Jewess’ answered. Time passed and a cry was heard. Madeleine was found on the bed with her cheek sliced open from the lips. Now she became known as la femme qui rit or the woman who laughs.

Hiding her disfigured face behind a veil, she became a popular ‘amusement’ for social gathering – someone to be looked with surprise, curiosity and laugh.

Men find (or they thought they do) pleasure and sex in this House of Tolerance. More often, they fill up their empty spirits with bizarre pleasure. In one scene, one asks the woman to pretend a Geisha which is still within normal confinement.

In another scene, the man wants the woman to act like automation – a poupée. He wants her to move in a mechanic way and eventually has intercourse with this poupée, silently and dispassionately.

The film closed with the opening of the Metro and the Day of Bastille – the French national day – while a party was gathering at the House of Tolerance. The flip side of civilisation is the decadence that often rests on the shoulders of prostitutes – victims of abuse, entrapment and helplessness.

The irony bites when at the final scene, the hookers were shown on the street of modern Paris. Perhaps we need prostitutes or sexual workers, to be respectful, for civilisation to continue shining. Or to use the words of the women in the film, they were ‘burnt’ to let the men glow.

(Below is the Right to Love by the Mighty Hannibal – an extremely sensational song that fits perfectly into the film)

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