Monday, August 15, 2011

Movie – Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Dangerous Liaisons is based on the 1782 novel Le liaisons dangereuses, which has been adapted many times.  The 1999 movie Cruel Intentions is another example.  The novel captured all the decadence, sin, and plotting that was going on in the French courts at the time.  The fact that it has been adapted so many times shows that stories about these subjects never go out of style.

This movie contains some of the best, if not the best, performances of all three main stars – Glenn Close as Marquise de Merteuil, John Malkovich as Vicomte de Valmont, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Madame de Tourvel.  Also in the movie are Keanu Reeves (Danceny) and Uma Thurman (Cecile) in early roles.  Swoosie Kurtz has a role as Madame de Volanges - the mother of Thurman’s character.  She would also cameo in Cruel Intentions as a nod to this movie.

It is pre-revolutionary France.  Bored aristocrats Merteuil and Valmont verbally fence with each other.  A former lover of hers is engaged to Cecile, an innocent young woman.  Merteuil wants Valmont to seduce Cecile to humiliate the former lover.  Valmont says that it is not a challenge worthy of him.  Instead he will attempt to seduce Tourvel, who is a virtuous married woman.  Merteuil says that if he will seduce Cecile, and succeed in seducing Tourvel, then she will grant him a night in bed with her.  He accepts her challenge.  While all this is going on, Merteuil is also seducing someone – Danceny.

Valmont makes the acquaintance of Tourvel, who is very aware of his reputation.  She wants nothing to do with him.  He eventually manages to break down her defenses enough to allow him to walk with her around the estate.  As time goes on he does manage to finally get her to give in to him, and the result is a sexy little moment of denied passion.

Valmont and Tourvel are in a bed chamber.  She first verbally protests, but then lays back and passively lets him do what he wants.  He is undoing the many buttons and laces on her bodice, and he leans in to kiss her for the first time, but then pauses.  His own conscience has gotten the better of him.  He has feelings for her and now does not want to ruin her just for the sake of the challenge.  All of this happens in a moment.  He is still just above her.  His lips are only inches away.  In that pause she moves her mouth just slightly toward his.  She wants him to kiss her.  All of the desire in her for him is shown in that one little unrestrained movement.  He backs away and leaves her still faithful to her husband.

When Merteuil finds out Valmont did not go through with it, and realizes why, her jealousy knows no bounds.  She now seeks to destroy him any way she can.

While I was discussing this movie with a young woman she said that she didn’t like the movie because Malkovich wasn’t handsome enough to be believable as a seducer of women, especially one as beautiful as Pfeiffer.  She pretty much missed the whole point of his character.  I let her know that a lot of people disagreed with her and that one of them was Pfeiffer herself since she and Malkovich dated for a little while after the movie wrapped.

If you have only seen the movie Cruel Intentions then you owe it to yourself to see this more faithful adaptation of the novel.  Unless you do not like period films, this movie is highly recommended.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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  1. Great review, loved the film and the performances

  2. That's a memorable scene you highlighted between Malkovich and Pfeiffer. He does playful well, although I think Daniel Day Lewis is equally as seductive that year (with how he uses his eyes ) in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

    I was watching a documentary the other day about the career of Milos Forman , and apparently he also directed the same story with Colin Firth, Valmont (1989) I haven't seen it, but I can't imagine it's as good as Dangerous Liaisons.

    1. I haven't seen Valmont, either. I remember when it came to video less than a year after Dangerous Liaisons and my reaction was "why?" As you saw from reading this review, I did watch Cruel Intentions, but enough time had passed between the two.