Pointedly set in the months before and after 1900, House of Pleasures projects nostalgia for the Paris bordello. Bonello’s posh maison close is a realm of beautifully dressed (and undressed) whores, alternately languid or high-spirited, if sadly victimized. Their johns are rich, their madam (filmmaker Noémie Lvovsky) affable, and their house so respectable that a 15-year-old country girl writes to apply for a position. Kids cavort in the parlor, where a client’s tame panther lolls on a divan. Yet not everything is, as the subtitles memorably put it, simply “sperm and champagne.” All the girls are in debt and vulnerable to syphilis. One john tricks the house Algerian (Hafsia Herzi) into reading a tract on the stupidity of prostitutes by Cesare Lombroso (whose work on criminal types influenced Freud), while another slashes a girl so that her face is frozen in a perpetual hideous grin.

A Dangerous Method
A Dangerous Method


A Dangerous Method
Directed by David Cronenberg
Sony Pictures Classics
Opens November 23

House of Pleasures
Written and directed by Bertrand Bonello
IFC Midnight
Opens November 25, IFC Center

Heaven or hell? Parisian brothels flourished in the ’20s and remained open through World War II, but Bonello presents the new century as their decline. As her rent goes up, Madam is reduced to hosting special soirees at which rich geeks paw her indentured freaks. The filmmaker gives full vent to his romanticism by staging an End of the Epoch party, with tearful sex workers dancing to “Nights in White Satin,” then steps on the mood with yet another farewell fête, commemorating Bastille Day. The prisoners are free—to walk the streets. Ironic, no?

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