Opening with a hint to the incident of cruel violence it will centre around, this story takes place in a 19th-century brothel. The focus is, interestingly, more on the communal experience and commercial aspects of the house; the sexual element is incidental. Much of the run-time is therefore spent observing the women’s everyday lives, and it does feel that we are, essentially, watching bored women sit around. Although perhaps that’s part of director Bertrand Bonello’s point, a dull acceptance of a plight they have little chance of changing. The arrival of a 16-year-old provides a contrast; the girl has made a proactive choice to join the house, but her introductory scene highlights how her life will be isolated from now on, regardless of group dynamic. It’s certainly an interesting premise taking an alternative look at prostitution.
If only, then, for a little more subplot. The problem with House of Tolerance is that, despite fancying itself as social commentary, it’s ultimately says very little over an inappropriately lengthy run-time.