Projections - Movie Reviews

Quills Quills

Today the Marquis de Sade would be the publisher of a magazine like "Hustler" or branded as a sexual predator.  Director Philip Kaufman effectively transposes the essence of the acclaimed play by Doug Wright to the screen, but the dramatic power which emits from the stage is less spontaneous here and the film carries a confused message of mirth, perversion and violence which dilute each other.

In the beginning we hear sounds of passion from a young woman who we expect is in the throws of passion, as the scene focuses we find her being tied by a huge man in a black mask as he places her head in the guillotine; the Marquis de Sade is watching from a window above.

In Quills, which refers to writing tools, the Marquis is framed in heroic fashion for an unbending commitment to his ideas and writing.  Eventually striped of all writing instruments and surfaces, he uses blood and body discharge to correspond.  Quills also describes his maniac skill at smuggling his manuscripts out of his asylum cell to a publisher, through a young washer woman, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), who slips them through the gate to a rider on horseback.

The popularity of his writing reaches Napoleon and Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) is dispatched to the asylum to silence the menace.  Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), the priest who has managed the asylum with compassion using psychological cures, is forced to comply with Dr. Royer-Collard's order to use traditional methods of rehabilitation for the insane, which include immersion baths, bleedings, strait jackets and purgings.  Even the plays written by the Marquis and presented by the inmates are ended following an attack on Madeleine by a powerful inmate.

What is lacking in the overall film is not evident in the dazzling frantic performance by Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush as the Marquis de Sade.  His edgy, brilliant performance brings his de Sade as close to insanity as it does to brilliance.  Joaquin Phoenix as the humanistic priest conveys the conflict between what he believes and what he is ordered to do.  He is also torn as a celibate with a tender love for Madeleine.  Michael Caine is a great villain even as he is twisted by his young wife Simone (Amelia Warner) whose eyes could melt anyone.

Above all we see a story of three men, the near insane de Sade, the radical who loses his life, the idealistic priest who is crushed by the pressure, and the bureaucratic doctor who goes with the flow as he is directed and even survives the treachery of his young wife.

Quills spreads very thin and therefore it is not dramatic enough, not sexy enough, not comical enough and not violent enough to sustain its potential.  The Marquis de Sade would have found it insufficiently honest and diluted for his taste.


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