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It's post-revolutionary France. Napoleon is in power. The Age of
Enlightenment is in full swing, yet the remnants of the Dark Ages still
linger to restrain the thinking of many a powerful monarch, religious leader
and rank-and-file common citizen. In all areas of life, the barriers to
freedom and self-expression are rapidly giving way, leaving traditional
institutions and values fighting for their very survival. And this includes
that most sensitive of all areas, the one that has, perhaps, caused more
consternation for the race than any other in our history determining the
role that sexuality plays in defining who we are physically, emotionally and
spiritually. Long thought of as little more than a necessary evil,
sexuality is suddenly starting to be reexamined in the light of other
scientific and academic reassessments. Small wonder that at such a crucial
moment in mankind's sexual awakening, a figure like the Marquis De Sade
would emerge, a man whose name has since become synonymous with perversion,
deviancy and licentiousness. It is this epic struggle between religion and
nature for the soul of humanity that Philip Kaufman captures so brilliantly
in his wickedly perverse, mordantly witty and brilliantly acted film,
Director Kaufman, working from a screenplay by Doug Wright (based on his play of the same name), chooses to start his tale almost at its end at the period when De Sade was already wasting away in an insane asylum, considered too perverted and dangerous in his ideas to be allowed to run loose among the general populace. Yet, it's hard to keep a creative genius down and De Sade has, unbeknownst to the priest who runs the facility, been regularly smuggling out manuscripts to publishers on the outside, much to the chagrin and delight of many elements of the French public. One of those least amused is Napoleon himself, who decides that he must take action in silencing this reprobate once and for all. He decides to send a `specialist' in mental health one Dr. Royer-Collard, a man more in tune with the techniques of the Spanish Inquisition than of modern medicine to take charge and bring De Sade to his senses. Wright's and Kaufman's other two main characters include the priest, The Abbe du Coulmier, who is keeper of the institution, and Madeleine LeClerc, a beautiful young devotee of De Sade's work who serves both as laundress and chief smuggler for the author and his works.
In many ways, the most interesting conflict turns out to be the one between De Sade and the Abbe, two men seemingly antipodes apart yet somehow able to find a common ground of mutual respect and understanding. On the one hand, we have a man who has completely thrown away all sexual inhibitions and indeed lives to not only experience every possible sexual pleasure but to encourage others to do so as well. On the other hand, we have a man who has chosen a life of chastity and celibacy, opting to completely shut down the sexual aspect of his life as a pious sublimation to God and yet neither extreme seems normal, healthy or practicable. In fact, near the end, De Sade suffers the torment of realizing that someone he cares for very deeply has become a tragic victim of one of his `ideas' run amuck, just as the Abbe, after years of repression, finds himself inching ever closer to the insanity that he is supposed to be curing in others.
Interestingly, the Abbe, the representative of the church that held the world in the grip of the Dark Ages for so long, is actually a beacon of enlightened reason compared to Dr. Royer-Collard, the self-ascribed `Man of Science.' Here is an individual actually aligned with the Church's Medieval methods, inflicting any form of excruciating physical and psychological torture on his patients to achieve their ultimate `cure' though we can see by the way he subtly abuses his own sixteen year old wife that `power' is, as always, the world's strongest aphrodisiac.
Special not must be taken of the superb performances by Geoffrey Rush, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine and Kate Winslet. Each does a superb job in bringing these diverse and complex characters to vivid life.
In terms of art direction, costume design and cinematography, the filmmakers do a fantastic job in recreating this strange world of the past - capturing that startling admixture of piety and licentiousness that bespeaks the `dual nature in Man,' which has forever served as the basis for the epic struggle between religion and nature. In a world like the one we live in now - in which explicit pornography has found a comfortable and, indeed, quite lucrative niche - De Sade seems ever more a man ahead of his time. It was his misfortune to be born into a world not quite ready to accept the ideas he had to offer. Yet, had he been living in this century, perhaps we would never even have heard of the name De Sade at all. Perhaps he would be just another anonymous pornographer, using the camera rather than the written word to graphically illustrate his darkest sexual longings. Then again, who knows? Perhaps it would be he who founded a world famous magazine and set up a mansion dedicated solely to the propagation of male sexual pleasure. It is, in the face of `Quills,' a thought worth pondering.
This was a good movie, but I thought it had somewhat of an unsatisfsying ending (well, to me anyway). Sad too. It moves nicely, though and you don't want to be interrupted. It can get rather graphic at times, but that's mainly because of the subject material, I guess. Geoffrey Rush is brilliant.He has a real knack for bringing strange and twisted characters to life. Michael Caine is doing his usual job of being superb as well. Every new role Kate Winslet performs is different from the previous and she excels every time. She expresses emotion very well. And my goodness, Joaquin Phoenix. I wouldn't say that I was ever a *fan* of his, but damn, now I am. If there was ever a performance that just made me melt, this was it. The restrained emotions and frustration of unfulfilled desires of his character were just performed brilliantly. This guy's an amazing actor.
Quills is the modernized story of the Marquis de Sade, whose steamy
writings whipped France into a sexual fury in the late 18th Century.
And by modernized I mean that it has been told through the experiences
of a lot of French people who speak English and with British accents.
But no matter, I'm willing to accept that everyone in France in 1800
spoke perfect British even if only because of Geoffrey Rush's brilliant
performance. With every movie that he comes out with I become more and
more convinced that there is nothing he can't do.
In order to know virtue, as the Marquis explains, one must first understand vice. In Philip Kaufman's Quills, the focus is on the Marquis de Sade after his writing has taken him beyond the artistic freedom generally accepted in the 18th and 19th centuries, even to elite aristocracy like himself. It is a detailed exploration of the events that led from him being a social elitist to living almost three decades in prison, writing things that caused his keepers to make it so difficult for him to write that he ultimately uses his own blood and excrement for ink, and his clothing, the walls of his cell, and his own skin as parchment.
Luckily for the Marquis, at first anyway, is that there is something of an understanding priest in the Abbe du Coulmier, another wonderful performance from Joaquin Phoenix. An intensely religious man, Coulmier believes that the Marquis should be allowed to write, if only to purge himself of the sadism with which his head is filled and which would later be named after him.
Kate Winslet plays Madeleine, a laundry maid who smuggles the Marquis' writing out of the asylum so that it can be published, for which many people are not happy, but many others are. The Marquis dips into the extensive world of the forbidden sexual taboos of the 18th and 19th centuries, writing extensively about them without a care in the world for propriety. One may wonder to what extent the Marquis' writings were such a hit because they were forbidden, or because of their lewd content, which may euphemistically be described as guilty pleasures for the masses. Indeed, Larry Flynt was not working, so graphic pornography was something of a rarity.
There is a curious relationship between the Marquis and a physician named Royer-Collard, played by Michael Caine, who is assigned to law down the law with the Marquis and prevent him from writing anymore. The glee with which the Marquis mocks and taunts him are some of the best parts of this outstanding film. There is a great parallel between the two characters, as well. Royer-Collard pretends to be a moral role model, at the same time taking a wife who is young enough to be his daughter, possibly even his granddaughter, and treats the Marquis with exactly the same sadistic (if I can again use the term for the behavior for which the Marquis would later be named) behavior that he condemns that Marquis for writing about. Both men engage in many of the same practices, it's just that the Marquis makes no attempt and has no interest in hiding his interests in the pleasures of the flesh.
I think that the most important thing to remember about this movie is that it is able to deal with a person who's beliefs are, I like to think, below the moral compasses of most of the people who will watch the movie, but it's not about what he was writing, it's about the fact that he was writing at all. It's about his defiance in the face of a corrupt moral authority, his insistence on maintaining an artistic expression that was not well received but that was certainly therapeutic to him. Sure, his sanity is in question, to say the least, but as they say, genius is often associated with madness.
What a great coincidence, too, because so is Geoffrey Rush.
QUILLS / (2000) ***1/2 (out of four)
By Blake French:
"To know virtue we must aquatint ourselves with vice."
Marquis de Sade
Philip Kaufman's "Quills" will leave some audiences cheering and others disappointed and disgusted; there are good logical arguments from both sides. One of the most controversial movie of the year, "Quills, " based on the play by Douglas Wright, doesn't entirely examine the torpid mind of the disreputable 18th century French author, the Marquis de Sade, but instead indicates the impact his sexually and sadistically explicit literary work influenced the public. The biggest argument could be made with the sanity of Marquis de Sade himself, as whether he was a perverted, sex-obsessed psychopath or simply a spirited aristocrat who only stood for artistic expression and freedom of speech. The movie's characters take their own sides; after becoming aware of the authors material, Napoleon wants de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) shot dead at the insane asylum he is being held at, but instead a sadistic torturer named Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) is assigned to take charge of the patient; the virginal laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet) , thinks de Sade is a writer, not a madman, and helps to smuggle his erotic stories out of the institution for public publication; the asylum priest, Adde Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), first befriends de Sade and grants him special privileges, but once he discovers the extremity of his subversive ideas, he reluctantly changes opinions. De Sade inarguably had some fanatical fantasies, but the film leaves it up to us to realize his lustful imagination captured on paper are transpired due to his inability to experience them in the real world outside of his chambers. The subject is carnal and a bit unsettling, and the movie exploits the eroticism clearly on screen; the film is strictly intended for mature audiences. But director Philip Kaufman ("The Right Stuff") does not portray the likes of de Sade in a disturbing manner, but keeps the story engaging. The atmosphere feels accurate and convincing, and the movie is not without humor and the expected material found within the mental institution, like the patient who thinks he is a bird, a pyromaniac, and the hulking horny guy who has his mind set out on raping any human with two legs with no external organs between them. There are a few scenes that could have captured the audience a bit more exclusively. However the entirely convincing, intense, brave, Oscar worthy performances by Michael Caine and Geoffrey Rush make up for that. The Marquis was an extremely complex individual, and Rush captures that through a character without heart or compassion, but with spirit and zest; even though de Sade went through each day with suffering, he still approached life with insight, ambition and curiosity. He is so determined to fulfill his need to write his perverse ideas, after forbidden and when his quills are taken away he still prevails by using blood, wine, and feces in the place of ink, and his clothes, sheets, and walls as paper. De Sade stands as an example that society is most successfully established when people understand that we are all simply expressions of our own nature, that it is most healthy to declare our motives and passions to ourselves. He is also a prime example of self-control, and that freedom of speech only carries us so far. It would be interesting to see what would happen if Marquis de Sade was to live in present times and if he was to exploit his ideas on screen or in novels. I think he would push the envelope to yet another level and have quite an influence on today's society. I hope people who see the artful "Quills" share their opinions with one another, after all, that is the reason why filmmakers make movies like these.
I originally went to see this one in a movie theater on a whim - I was
feeling spontaneous, so I bought a ticket for a movie I knew nothing
about, and went in free of preconceptions or expectations.
The cleverness of the very first scenes brought a smile to my face, and I knew I was in for a rare treat; off the top of my head, I can't think of a movie with a better conceived, audience grabbing opening sequence.
And the impression lasted throughout this great film. Quills is a passionate (and entertaining!) cry in defense of artistic freedom, and the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion; and it is a deliciously clever movie, both in dialog and in plot. It is actually a movie that has something to say, and does it in an entertaining, engaging way that doesn't leave the audience feeling that they are being lectured to or talked down to.
A few scenes are gruesome and unpleasant, but they, I think, are a necessary evil for the telling of the story, not a gratuitous shock-tactic.
The performances are excellent throughout, and the storyline is will firmly claim and keep your attention. Quills is the sort of movie that you don't forget, and that'll linger on in your mind long after you've seen it.
I would heartily recommend this movie to anyone - even if it doesn't sound like the type of movie you'd normally go for. I for one am very glad that I happened to be feeling spontaneous the day I went to see it, because otherwise I would most likely have missed it. So give your spontaneity a chance if you happen upon Quills in your local movie rental place.
Quills is one of the best films of 2000, in my reckoning, second best only
to You Can Count on Me. It is one of the most brilliantly directed, acted,
produced, and written films I've seen in a very long time. There is not a
(major) character in this film that is not very complex, and the issues at
stake are utterly important.
Perhaps the greatest success of the film is how well it works on commenting both on its own time and situations and our own world today. The issues of free speech, creativity, dementia, corporal punishment, religion, sexuality and especially politics are woven into the film in amazing ways. Yes, politics, for it works as an allegory to the recent presidential scandals.
There are two flaws, one major, one semi-major. The semi-major one involves the epilogue. It is not bad, but it is unnecessary. Perhaps the best way to describe it is superfluous and predictable. The major flaw would destroy any lesser film. Here, it is hardly noticable. Still, if one contemplates it, there is no getting around it. There is never a believable reason why Madeleine should be so helpful to the Marquis de Sade. They present a tiny one, but it is not good enough.
Still, with its successes elsewhere, these flaws do not weaken this film. Without them, it would have been perfect. With them, well, just because it is flawed, doesn't mean it isn't a masterpiece. 10/10
Quills is a delightfully unsettling account of the demise of the
Marquis de Sade and those he brings down with him. The film presents
viewers with all the evidence they need to identify the fallacies of
society's separation of "good" from "evil" and "moralists" from
"sinners." It subtly asserts that the values traditionally used to pass
judgment are compromised by convention and religion, and that there is
moral danger in accepting these values without question.
During the film, one form of sin is only replaced by another, which defeats its resistors and beguiles the rest by hiding behind a pretentious shroud of religion and convention.
Viewers are horrified to discover that they can actually identify with the marquis, whose name inspired the word "sadist" to describe those who derive sexual pleasure from violence. Most viewers' senses of morality are sullied by the realization that they are hanging on every twist of the plot, desperate to know what will next beset these wretched characters.
Based on historical fact, Quills catches up with the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) during the twilight of his life, when he has already been sentenced to life imprisonment in the Charenton Asylum. No longer able to pursue the perverse sexual escapades that had landed him in the madhouse after decades of unspeakable offenses, he now purges his demons by writing. At the urging of the saintly, ever-tolerant and even-tempered Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the marquis describes his imagination's disturbing scenes on paper.
Trouble arises when one of his books, smuggled to a publisher by a sympathetic admirer - innocent laundry maid Madeleine (Kate Winslet) - catch the disapproving eye of Emperor Napoleon.
There is no escape from sin when the man sent to purify the Charenton, Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), only seeks to replace it with intolerance and unimaginable cruelty.
True to the spirit of the film, the sets are imbued befittingly with gloom and grime, and the inhabitants of the Charenton are realistically ragged.
Rush and Winslet's performances as the marquis and Madeleine are stunning. The film's delicious impropriety is heightened by their chemistry, which is so potent as to be communicable to viewers.
The super-intelligent plot is unexpectedly circular, leaving viewers feeling as though they may well be next in line for the madness bred at the Charenton. Their fears are seemingly verified by he change they know the film has already inspired in them.
Far from resolutive, the only solace the ending holds for viewers is a sense of, "Aha, now I know," and a new way to evaluate the good in evil in themselves and others.
Quills is a movie about the man The Marquis De Sade. If you are not
familiar with him watching the movie would be advisable even though
your own research might be better. The film follows him played
amazingly by Geoffrey Rush in a insane asylum. Michael Caine who is an
expert at "curing" people of their madness wishes to take a new
approach at solving the mental in-capacities of the inmates of the
Charenton. This of course it that of more brutal methods than that of
the Abbe played by Joaquin Phoenix. What does seem of the least cruel
of the punishments in this movie turns out to be the most costly, Sade
is no longer allowed to write. This had dramatic affects on him and his
state of mind.
In the movie Geoffrey Rush simply shines. Here he proves once again how he has undoubtedly one of the most under appreciated actors around today. His performance is unique in that he plays a man considered perverse yet brilliant, a man of many self contradictions. As the film wears on Geoffrey Rush does not take the easy way out in making his performance extraordinary flashy, in fact it remains quite subtle. His subtly is what truly makes his performance great with the many underlying tones he carries. Michael Caine whenever in a film carries this great presence with him and continues to do so here. He is obviously a man of many secrets and I had wished he was given more screen time to study his more of his character motivations and actions. Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix play well in this movie but have had better performances which is a true testament to their abilities.
The writing of the movie is very good in that the movie remains interesting throughout. What fails though is the directing. It was solid but refused took unnecessary turns in the film. The romantic tension between Winslet and Phoenix was pushed upon the story a bit too hard and at times dragged away from what was a compelling enough of a theme: freedom of expression.
Freedom of expression is something that we all have to have in our lives. If we do not have it we will go crazy like many of the inmates of the Charenton. Our ideas is what keeps us going and when that right is taken away from us our problem do not disappear they erupt. For example some people express their ideas through writing such as the Sade in this film. If that is taken away not only do we lose our sanity but along with it our very humanity. We can no longer differentiate between fantasy and reality as Geoffrey Rush so perfectly illustrates. That is what this film showed but unfortunately did not show enough of. If it had stayed more consistent with this theme and picked it apart in other aspects it would have reached at the height of greatness. Yet it did not and is very good recommendable film but not what it could have been.
Geoffrey Rush, star of Pirates of the Caribbean, Elizabeth, and Shakespeare in love, Stars in this tale of the infamous and perverted Marquis de Sade. Imprisoned away from the world in the French asylum of Charenton. In a bid to silence the Marquis, famous for his lewd and pornographic writings which has made him infamous, The French ruler Napoleon sends the cold and reserved Dr Royer Collard (Michael Caine) to cure and prevent him from smuggling manuscripts to a publisher, secretly aided by the beautiful virginal chambermaid Madeleine (Kate Winslett) who often finds herself the object of his writing and affection. However along with the Marquis, Madeleine also finds herself the object of the affections of the young and handsome Abbe du Coulmier, (Joaquin Phoenix) the administrator at Charenton. His priestly vows prevent them from being together and conceals hi love fro her. The Marquis meanwhile is suffering at the hands of the repulsive doctor. Due to an indiscretion, at one of many of Charenton open nights when the French aristocracy gather to watch one of the Marquis plays. The play entitled "the crimes of love" makes exact and deliberate references to the doctor's personal life where he picked a penniless but beautiful young nun Simone (Amelia Warner) from a convent, a girl young enough to be his daughter- to be his wife and subjected her to hours of "nightly wife's duties". The doctor vows revenge on the Marquis and even more so when Simone runs away with an architect after reading one of his most lewd novels to date. The Marquis is stripped of all his privileges; first his paper, quills, and ink are taken but he refuses to be silenced. With tragic consequences. As the punishments grow more severe and each knew novels written b something disgusting objects the marquis and the doctor are locked in deadly battle over power and control, which sends the law and order of Charenton asylum downhill as the fight takes a twisted and unexpected turn. A thrilling story with many twists and turns where egos collide and love interferes where power and money speak and authority is threatened.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I really wanted to find things to like about "Quills", given Geoffrey
Rush being cast as "the divine Marquis", and Philip Kaufman directing
(who previously made the excellent "Henry and June"). Alas, "Quills" is
little more than a standard Hollywood-style morality tale, sexied up as
much as possible by Sade's notorious writing. It also takes pointless
liberties with historic fact, changing many aspects of Sade's life and
exploits. It also serves up some of the more absurd devices I've seen
in a "serious art film".
For example, the historic Madeleine was 13 when the 70 year-old Sade seduced her, and their affair (or whatever it was) lasted 4 years, until the Marquis' death of old age. But apparently the filmmakers thought a 70 year-old erotic author wasn't sexy enough, and a 13 year-old girl was a little too sexy, so their ages were "normalised".
Rush is more than up to the role, and he gooses it at every opportunity. Given a better script, his performance would've been beyond criticism (other than his being 20 years too young for it). Joaquin Phoenix is less fortunate; for being the Abbe in charge of a sanitarium, he has the naiveté of a boy scout -- befuddled and helpless at every turn. And poor old Michael Caine. It's films like this, with their two-dimensional roles for him that make me all the more treasure his flawless performance in "Little Voice".
Kate Winslet does the best she can with a role that requires her to act unnaturally foolishly. For example, knowing full well that her smuggling of Sade's manuscripts to the publishers risks not only her freedom (perhaps her life) and the survival of the sanitarium and all its inmates and staff, she willingly -- casually even -- continues to assume the risk. For what? For the stories? For Sade's sake or the public's? No, she is just swept up in the exciting naughtiness of it all. She unlocks the Marquis' cell door whenever he asks, and stupidly, leaves it open, so they can be discovered.
More absurdities abound, including a fire in one cell that supposedly threatens the (nonflammable stone) building, a novel allegedly being written on a single bed-sheet, a cast of imbeciles that instantly learns a new stage play to perform. And it's a quibble, but the costumes are often historically inaccurate for 1806; they appear to range from between about 1770 and 1815.
But for all of these faults, the principle problems with "Quills" are the dialogue and the direction. The dialogue is painfully trite in many parts (I winced when Michael Caine's character shouted "The inmates are running the asylum!"). And much of the direction needlessly exaggerates the moods, with leering, glowering and slobbering galore. Rush's performance is the only one that doesn't seem emotionally false. There's a good treatment of the Marquis de Sade's life and works out there somewhere, but "Quills", alas, isn't it.
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