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Life in an elegant Parisian brothel in the early twentieth century. The madam essentially owns the women: their expenses exceed earnings, they are in debt. They face problems of pregnancy, opium, age, and violent clients. One reads sociology at her peril. Occasionally, a client talks of marriage. There are also friendships and affection among the women. The madam is in a dispute with her landlord and calls on influential clients to help. There's a picnic one summer day, a wake, and an evening in masks. Have they expectations? In a coda, we watch a street scene in contemporary Paris. Written by
The casting says "Clotilde" but her name is misspelled (as "Clothilde", rather a common error in France) in the movie when we see the lines of name/debt written by the matron. See more »
A character says he's been to the inauguration ceremony of the Paris Metro. After that there is a scene where we hear fireworks for Bastille Day (14 July). The opening of the Paris Metro (Line 1) was on 19 July 1900, five days after Bastille Day. See more »
If you absolutely have got to know what life might have been like for prostitutes in Paris during the early 1900s then you've got to see this. For everyone else, there's nothing here to see.
L'Apollonide is a classy palatial bordello. The prostitutes live and work there. They are under the soft yoke of the madam who sells them everything they need for a hefty price such that they are forever indebted to her and for some reason can't leave. We learn all the boring details of what their life is like- their hygiene routines, their exams with the physician, what they do to pass the time (not much). On some days, there are a bunch of children there. At night the clients arrive, and still little happens as they are happy to just sit around with the prostitutes and stare at each other, play board games, flirt, gossip. One of them brings a panther with him for some reason- a panther that doesn't age. When they get down to business it turns out all the clients have kinkyish proclivities.
One of the prostitutes who has nightmares and visions actually ends up fulfilling them as one of her clients slashes her cheeks, making her unsuitable for regular work. Another ends up with syphilis and dies. We also meet a young girl who decides to join the staff, with the blessing of her parents somehow. The life is portrayed as a type of slavery and yet women join it voluntarily as way out? And the panther will deliver justice. The bordello also faces closure eventually. That is about it when it comes to a plot. The writer/director does his best to avoid telling a story. For instance, one of the girls will read the tarot cards to the others to answer questions. She interprets the past, the present, and when she gets to the future, the director cuts to something else. When there is action, it is almost filmed in slow motion, everybody moves with all the patience in the world in a calculated unnatural way, as if the actors are being overdirected.
The movie looks pretty good, the longest and most commonly repeated scene of the prostitutes sitting around with clients looks like a living still life. Music and sounds are OK until we get near the end when suddenly we get loud anachronistic contemporary music. This movie is 2 hours long but it feels like 20 hours. I had to see it in two sessions.
What is the point of the movie one asks oneself after sitting through this sedative? Other than being the writer/director's prostitute-adoration piece I can't think of any. It doesn't glorify prostitution but it doesn't humanize it either. One can't care for any of the prostitutes, they all look fairly alike and are not particularly attractive, let alone interesting. It doesn't vilify or humanize the clients either. The emotional tone of the movie is entirely flat throughout. One fears there is some brilliant message that one missed but after watching the behind-the-scenes feature where the director explains himself one can conclude that nothing was missed, there isn't anything to this movie. Somewhere hidden behind endless repeated scenes where nothing happens could have been a decent movie about the life and dreams of prostitutes during those Parisian times. But the director isn't interested in telling a story, he is obsessed with some images that he repeats in all his movies and that derail what could have been a story. If anything, this movie is a remarkable waste of effort, funds, and talent, and a lesson on how not to make a movie.
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