Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dangerous Liaisons

Dangerous Liaisons; drama, UK/ USA, 1988; D: Stephen Frears, S: John Malkovich, Glenn Close, Michelle Pfeiffer, Swoosie Kurtz, Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves

France, 1780. The Marquise de Merteuil is a mean-spirited woman who was left by her lover Bastide because he wanted to marry Cecile (15). Therefore Merteuil colludes with sneaky Valmont, persuading him to sleep with Cecile in order to bring shame to Bastide. However, Valmont refuses in order to take on an even bigger challenge: seducing the religious, conservative beauty de Tourvel. At first, Tourvel banishes him from her castle because she heard awful rumors about his character, but in the end she gives in. In the meantime, Valmont slept with Cecile anyway and leaves de Tourvel in order to get Merteuil's body, as she promised as his reward, but she betrays him with a lover. In a duel with the lover, Valmont dies but gives him letters that confirm Merteuil's intrigues. In a theatre, everyone thus despise her.

Coincidentally or not, two Hollywood adaptations of Christopher Hampton's play "Le liaisons dangereuses" were planned and filmed in 1988, "Valmont" by Forman and this critically acclaimed drama which is truly excellent and wonderful in transmitting "old characters" from the 18th century into real characters who seem fresh and alive no matter in which epoch you are watching them. Winner of 3 Oscars (best adapted screenplay, costume design, art direction) and two BAFTA awards (best screenplay, supporting actress Michelle Pfeiffer), "Dangerous Liaisons" creates a sober drift in our perception of an innocent epoch of the 18th century: the main protagonists are cheaters who seduce and then dispense people out of a bet or boredom. To them, affection is just a tool to control people. Only in the end does one of them, before his death, realize that he was truly in love. The exposition introduces those anti-heroes in humorous light: servants apply make-up to Mertuille's cleavage whereas they pull hair from Valmont's nose. Valmont (excellent John Malkovich) is a finely conjured up character who masterfully manipulates people, but himself doesn't really know what he wants. When a spy is "secretly" following him, he complaints at what a "loud spy" he is and even uses the naked back of his lovers as a table to write letters. Director Stephen Frears is skilfully creating an easily engaging film with an emotional touch and Pfeiffer is great as the beauty who falls for Valmont.


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