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).