Scene from "House of Pleasures," an IFC Release directed by… (IFC Films )
Though at first, er, blush, writer-director Bertrand Bonello's "House of Pleasures" evokes the canon of late-1960s soft-porn chic purveyor Radley Metzger, its gauzy look at an upscale Parisian brothel circa 1900 evolves into something more — and also less.
On the one hand, the film plays like an intimate series of beautifully composed paintings depicting daily life at L'Apollonide, a velvety palace of desire, fantasy and dashed dreams, where aristocratic men cavort with alluring women near-classically trained in the oldest profession.
On the flip side, the movie can often feel like the world's earliest reality TV show — a kind of sexual survival of the fittest — in which various under-one-roof dramas play out among a camera-ready cast of wannabe starlets playing characters with such glamorous names as Clotilde, Samira and Madeleine. And doesn't that dark-haired courtesan in the corner look a little like a Kardashian?
Either way, "Pleasures" becomes as enveloping — and sometimes as awkward — as one of the L'Apollonide ladies' heaving corsets. And, despite its many flashes of skin and sin, "Pleasures" is not only not erotic, but somewhat anti-erotic (nothing like a bit of syphilis or facial disfigurement to ruin a good time).
Still, an all-female, slow dance sequence backed by the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin," although wickedly anachronistic, proves also quite stunning.
"House of Pleasures." No MPAA rating. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.