French Twisted the Marquis De Sade Gets a Literate Makeover in Kaufman's Kinky 'Quills'

By Gire, Dann | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 15, 2000 | Go to article overview

French Twisted the Marquis De Sade Gets a Literate Makeover in Kaufman's Kinky 'Quills'


Gire, Dann, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Dann Gire Daily Herald Film Critic

"Quills"

Opens today

Written by Doug Wright; based on his play. Produced by Julia Chasman, Nick Wechsler and Peter Kaufman. Directed by Philip Kaufman. A 20th Century-Fox release. Rated R (violence, sexual situations, nudity, language). Running time: 120 minutes.

Cast:

The Marquis de Sade Geoffrey Rush

Madeleine Kate Winslet

Coulmier Joaquin Phoenix

Dr. Royer-Collard Michael Caine

Madame LeClerc Billie Whitelaw

Anyone expecting raw debauchery in "Quills" - Philip Kaufman's literate look at the infamous Marquis de Sade - should be prepared for disappointment.

Based on Doug Wright's 1995 stage play, "Quills" has loftier goals than to merely shock and exploit, and it operates well within the safe confines of an R rating.

This atmospheric drama more or less turns the Marquis into an 18th-century Larry Flynt, a brilliant and possibly mad visionary whose drive to create shocking works brings the wrath of the establishment down upon him.

De Sade verbalized so many of man's basest appetites, from necrophilia to sexual torture, that he gave us the term sadism, which means taking pleasure in the pain of others.

"Quills" opens with an intense public beheading in the post- Revolution France where an executioner lovingly arranges the tresses on a weepy young woman about to meet the blade.

The executioner teases his victim, and his audience of cheering townspeople, by pretending to release the blade several times, building up the dramatic tension ... building ... building ... until the climactic drop.

The scene provides a perfect setup for the conflicts to follow. How can we separate de Sade's joy of inflicting suffering from the public's joy of watching the suffering being inflicted? Who can identify the one that's inhumane?

Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush plays de Sade as a bright but foul- minded little boy stuck in the body of a bewigged and frilly aristocrat badly in need of Ritalin.

Locked away in the bowels of the Charenton Asylum under orders from Napoleon himself, the Marquis busies himself with writing his latest novel, "Justine," a work so obscene and wretched that he must smuggle it out with the help of a young chambermaid named Madeleine (Kate Winslet).

When "Justine" hits the streets and becomes an instant best seller, an outraged Napoleon dispatches his toughest troubleshooter to deal with de Sade. …

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