Monday, May 28, 2012

Euro 2012: French Films

Entry #6 of the Euro 2012 Book & Film Spotlight looks at the two French films.

L’Apollonide (House of Tolerance/House of Pleasures) (2011, Bertrand Bonello)

L'Apollonide Bonello

Films set in a brothel often depict similar stories by incorporating a range of familiar characters from a young to an older prostitute and from a miserable to a romantic person. The clients that visit the brothels also appear to be cut from a similar template such as a young male after his first sexual experience, a rich man who falls in love with a prostitute and wants to rescue her and an older male simply looking for a friend. Therefore, a lot of credit must be given to Bertrand Bonello who manages to craft a unique film despite working in the confined framework of a brothel. Many of the characters shown in Bonello’s film are familiar from previous films set in a brothel but Bonello also adds elements of horror and fantasy while layering everything with a stylistic touch. For example, the recurring images of a panther and the tragic disfiguring of a prostitute’s face (“the woman who laughs”) are not only haunting but linger long in the memory. The films also contains delightful moments, such as the sequence of money being counted which perfectly illustrates the financial side of sexual transactions. Music also plays a key part in L’Apollonide while the visuals evoke sentiments of an underground world of drugs and sex. Even though the film does not depict rich colors, it exudes a bit of the sensuality found in rich supply in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai. As it turns out, Bonello mentions Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film in an interview with Cinema Scope:

One of my uncertainties was the atmosphere of the brothel in my film. I didn’t want that French, 1900s [makes a fanfare noise]… Moulin Rouge, etc. etc. So I went directly to that opium den mood in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s film, because it keeps the sensuality but is not hysterical. There’s an explicit homage in my film to Flowers of Shanghai: the Chinese violin.

Also, the final scene is a perfect way to end the film as it creates a bridge between brothels of the past and modern day prostitution. That crucial scene also illustrates how a film like L’Apollonide will never age and will always be relevant in our society.

Rapt (2009, Lucas Belvaux)


A rich man gets kidnapped. The kidnappers demand a ransom from the victim’s family. The family want to do whatever is possible to get their beloved back.

At this point, Lucas Belvaux’s Rapt tears up the familiar script found in cinematic kidnapped stories and goes off in a completely different direction with surprisingly powerful results.

The first deviation from conventional kidnapped stories is the realization the kidnapped man Stanislas Graff (Yvan Attal) is not as rich as everyone initially thought. He has a lot of debt and did his utmost to maintain an illusion of an extravagant lifestyle. Investigation into his life reveals his multiple affairs which alienates his wife and daughter. Stanislas’ company and board of directors are not too happy with his lifestyle and are reluctant to part with any funds for his release. As a result, Stanislas is cut adrift from the outside world and the only people who end up caring for him are his kidnappers who still believe they can get some money from his capture. With the exception of a few torture scenes, Rapt does not feature any of the action or heroic scenes often found in kidnapping tales. Words are the weapons of choice in Rapt and character assassinations are the only kinds of attacks that take place.

Same Same but different

Both L’Apollonide and Rapt show that in the hands of a talented director, a familiar setup can yield a completely different end product. Therefore even though one day stories may dry up, cinema will always continue to surprize as long as creative personalities stand behind a camera.


Sam Juliano said...

I need to see RAPT. I did see the Lucas Belvaux Trilogy, and found it worthwhile. Bonello's atmospheric, stylish film is unforgettable. Terrific reviews here!

Sachin said...

Wow Sam. I had no idea about the trilogy film by him. I will have to hunt it down. Thanks