Many noble families are locked in a chateau due to the French Revolution. The infamous Marquis de Sade is there and is generally shunned by the others. A teen-aged girl befriends him behind her parents back and learns about him and life in general. He initiates her into sexual exploration and leads her to become an independent, sexually-liberated woman.Written by
Not too long ago we had an excellent portrayal of the Marquis de Sade by Geoffrey Rush in "Quills," a well acted, fast-paced, tense distortion of Sade's stay at the notorious Charenton insane asylum. Plucking at our compassion demanding decent treatment of the mentally ill and our general revulsion against extreme physical "cures" for madness, "Quills" reminded us of the bad old days when the insane were brutalized by the inhumane.
Now we have a very different marquis in "Sade," a film that has received some extravagant and, in my view, not fully deserved praise. It is a very interesting film, worth seeing (the full-scale guillotine in action is worth the price of admission). But it's not great.
Daniel Auteuil (Sade) is a very fine actor, one of the most interesting and versatile in both English and French language roles. His Sade is remarkably laid back given the Terror, the uncertainty of survival in a rest home cum upper class jail. For a man whose writings are permeated with lurid descriptions of sexual acts of every kind and who describes his own participation on most pages of many books, Auteuil's Sade comes across as a man on holiday from his perversions. Geoffrey Rush was closer to the soul of Sade (he had one, you know).
Sade befriends a very able actress, Isild Le Besco, "Emilie," an awakening teenage noblewoman at first repelled by and then saturninely attracted to her new mentor. Sade informs her that he is indeed a "libertine" who has done it all but, unfortunately, he expresses himself with the same passion that a first time-invited dinner guest to my home will mention that he is a vegetarian.
The real marquis was a fiery character and not just on paper. Imprisoned (as he was most of his life), he rallied angry protestors outside the walls of his jail with such effect that he was immediately whisked off the premises to another facility. Thus he missed the storming of the Bastille the next day (which would have resulted in at least his temporary liberation), an event that has given France a great holiday and made it easier for many to remember my birthday.
The machinations of Robespierre (and one of his lieutenants who shares a bed with Sade's still involved mistress, by whom he has a cute kid,) are almost tepid given the fervor of that madman's mode of governance. So tame is this Robespierre that I almost felt badly for him when he went for the Big Haircut.
Auteuil is much too detached for his character and for the times. When he expounds on his libertine philosophy to Emilie and anyone who will listen he sounds like a present day alternative-press sex columnist on a time warp trip. Sade stirred things up wherever he was confined. In this film even the one scene of intense sexual passion appears to almost bore him.
The cinematography is impressive. Perhaps to avoid being described as a period piece, instead of music associated with the French Revolution (not a bar of the Marsellaise) the music of Poulenc provides some of the background. Poulenc and the French Revolution?
An interesting but overpraised film.
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