Bertrand Bonello’s sexually frank, but stately tour of a turn-of-the-last-century high-end Parisian brothel is meticulous . . . and, as GIGI’s Gaston Lachaille might say, a bit of a bore. Lolling about the lounge & dens of iniquity, we watch as rich, blasé middle-aged men pass silent judgement on the high riding breasts of available girls in their late teens to late twenties. Any expectations of stimulating sociability (games, music, drink, conversation) barely materialize, with sex as collateral damage. No wonder half the men in the place are falling asleep. And with all there was to do in Paris at the time! Occasionally a crisis flairs up: STDs; pregnancy; a ghastly physical mutilation that turns a girl into a female Gwynplaine (THE MAN WHO LAUGHS/’28). But the biggest crisis comes when the house is forced to close from rising rents & rumors of changes in the law. (Bonello isn’t exactly spendthrift with narrative details.) It leaves the girls, little more than indentured servants of the house, with little future to speak of. At its occasional best, the film floats just above the floor, like one of the prostitute’s opium dreams. But the texture grows wearily thin, even with Bonello goosing his soundtrack with anachronistic jolts of R&B music.
DOUBLE-BILL: For another look at a brothel that's being forced to close, try ADUA E LE COMPAGNE/’60 with Marcello Mastrioanni, Simone Signoret and a trio of transitioning hookers.