Produced the same year as QUILLS, Philip Kaufman's polemical film about the Divine Marquis, director Benoit Jacquot's character-driven drama sticks closer to the biographical facts but yields less interesting results. The year is 1794, the height of the Terror, and the streets of Paris are slick with the blood of guillotined nobles. Having already served a total of 13 years in prison under the Ancien Regime, Sade (Daniel Auteuil) must now make a case for himself before the Republic, knowing full well that prudish revolutionary Robespierre (Scali Delpeyrat) would be happy to see the 54-year-old playwright, novelist and unregenerate libertine's noble neck under the guillotine's blade. That Sade is spared is due to the tireless dedication of his mistress, Marie-Constance Quesnet (Marianne Denicourt), who's been carrying on an affair with a young deputy of the Republic (Gregoire Colin) in exchange for the Marquis's life. Sade is transferred to Picpus, a relatively posh "clinic" for paying aristocrats who've been granted a reprieve at least for the time being. Snubbed by fellow nobles who are disgusted by the sexual excesses of his novel Justine, Sade is installed in a room next to the Viscount de Lancris (Jean-Pierre Cassel), his ailing wife (Dominique Reymond) and their daughter, Emilie (Isild Le Besco). Young, pretty and nobody's fool, Emilie proves an intriguing challenge for Sade, who's determined to teach the lass how to live without fear, hope or regret. He convinces M. Coignard (Philippe Duquesne), the director of Picpus, to allow him to stage a play, but no sooner is his stage constructed than a second scaffolding is erected on the former convent's rolling lawns: The guillotine has come to Picpus. For all its histrionics, QUILLS poses an interesting question about the Marquis, one that has plagued Western thought since the publication of Justine: What, exactly, are we supposed to do with him? Geoffrey Wright's Sade was a reprehensible, philosophical fiend consumed by his passions, but one whose art and humanity we must ultimately accept. Auteuil (who in no way resembles the physically grotesque figure the Marquis had become by this point in his life) plays it soft and subtle, downplaying the fleshly deviance for a far more palatable cerebral eroticism. The inevitable seduction of the innocent may occur under his stage directions, but it's at another's hands. Interestingly, the real horror lies in the film's depiction of the era: The sight of guillotined bodies naked, headless and dumped under the shady trees of Picpus is truly shocking. Rarely has the horror of the Terror been so graphically and effectively evoked.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: NR
- Review: Produced the same year as QUILLS, Philip Kaufman's polemical film about the Divine Marquis, director Benoit Jacquot's character-driven drama sticks closer to the biographical facts but yields less interesting results. The year is 1794, the height of the Te… (more)