Stirring. The Marquis De Sade (Auteuil) causes mischief in the dining room...
dir Benoit Jacquot
scr Jacques Fieschi, Bernard Minoret
with Daniel Auteuil, Marianne Denicourt, Gregoire Colin, Isild Le Besco, Jeanne Balibar, Jalil Lespert, Philippe Duquesne, Vincent Branchet, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Dominique Reymond, Leo Le Bevillon, Daniel Martin
00/France 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Alongside Philip Kaufman's stylised and theatrical Quills, we get a second look at the Marquis De Sade, this time a French film set some 10 years earlier in the life of the notorious novelist. And this is a much more earthy, gritty and probably authentic take.

It's Paris 1794, and very few aristocrats have escaped the guillotine. But Sade (Auteuil) is one of them, and he's rounded up with the other survivors and sent to a country convent to regroup ... and maybe be executed later. The "inmates" are all terrified; Sade's cool fatalism (and atheism) strikes everyone as horrific. And it arouses lots of curiosity, especially for a naive young woman (Le Besco). Meanwhile, Sade's mistress (Denicourt) is having trouble with a suitor (Colin) who's a despised deputy for the murderous underclasses.

The film cleverly focuses not on Sade's outrageousness, but on the insidious way he and his ideas worm themselves into the lives of the people around him, all while France struggles turbulently to find its way after such a gruesome revolution. The film is beautifully put together--Jacquot directs with a natural eye, capturing both the battered glory and the underlying wit of the French nobility ... in stark contrast to the earnestness of the revolutionaries. It's fiercely clever and beautifully subtle in every way, and yet it's also, like Sade himself, unflinching in the face of extreme pain and sexuality.

[strong adult themes and situations, language, nudity] 30.Oct.00
France release 23.Aug.00; London Film Fest Nov.00

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"I have a soft spot for Sade and I know all of his work and life down to the tiniest detail; from this you may easily surmise with what frame of mind I approached this movie: a thousand apprehensions, a mountain of doubts and an ocean of expectations, all justified by the director's choice of one of my most favorite actors for the 'divine' role. Indeed, my apprehensions have been nicely placated: what reeled in front of my eyes was the 'free-thinker' Sade, as some reviews had already forwarned me of. An unusual kind of Sade by all accounts--not a fanatic, not an irate madman, not even a lusty old bugger, just pure and simple atheist aristocrat. A marvellous and very charming actor, Auteuil has got all it takes in order to portray the Divin Marquis, save for le phisique du role; what he lacks, of course, are the deep blue eyes and blond hair, not to mention at least 30 pounds around the waist. What this movie tries to accomplish is a sort of Sadian anthology. All of Sade is here: his passion for the theater; his insane curiosity; his 'principle of tact'; his partner in crime Sensible (Denicourt); the affectionate fatherly rapport with his step-son; that typical, healthy/sane (or unhealthy/insane?) touch of irony which permeated his art and his life, either by choice or by fate. The movie's underlying conviction is that it is primarily ideas which are scandalous (or exciting--in Sade the two concepts overlay and are often equivalent), therefore capable of corrupting, while facts are but their logical conclusion and fulfillment. With discretion and moderation, Jacquot shows to be perfectly aware of the delicate and controversial nature of the material at hand by never interfering directly and bombastically; actually, he almost seems to set himself quietly aside in order to let the histrionic personage speak for himself. Tactful direction assisted by artful photography, faithful to reality without loud, self-complacent frills. A very handsome movie, then, this is a delightful movie which, just because of its unpolemic approach, becomes all the more precious to Sadians and laymen alike, considering the 'peculiar' character it portrays." --Maddalena de Seda, Italy 26.Apr.01

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall