Combustible Celluloid
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With: Daniel Auteuil, Isild Le Besco, Marianne Denicourt, Jeanne Balibar, Grégoire Colin, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Philippe Duquesne, Vincent Branchet, Raymond Gérôme, Jalil Lespert, Dominique Reymond, Sylvie Testud, François Levantal, Frédérique Tirmont, Daniel Martin, Monique Couturier, Scali Delpeyrat, Léo Le Bevillon
Written by: Jacques Fieschi, Bernard Minoret, based on a novel by Serge Bramly
Directed by: Benoît Jacquot
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 08/23/2000

Sade (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Quill of the Night

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The question is this: Why ever would we need another movie about the Marquis de Sade when Philip Kaufman and Geoffrey Rush did such a fine job of it with Quills (2000)?

It turns out that director Benoît Jacquot's version, with the great Daniel Auteuil in the title role, doesn't really compare to Kaufman and Rush's version. It's as if we were talking about two entirely different characters. I barely even thought about Quills while watching Sade, and it seems that both films can comfortably occupy shelf space.

In playing Sade, Auteuil internalizes his lust for freedom, as well as his suffering when deprived of said freedom. (Rush externalized these things, running rampant and chewing on scenery like a randy goat.)

The story takes place during Sade's stay at Picpus, a kind of minimum-security prison in which the well-to-do actually pay for their own room and board. It's 1794, a number of years before the Quills story takes place. To anyone who asks, Sade denies having written any particularly lurid tales, though some of the publishers of those tales have lost their heads at the guillotine.

Sade's story in this film revolves primarily around a young girl, probably just barely on the verge of 18, and a sexual awakening. Played by Isild Le Besco of the recent Girls Can't Swim, Emilie receives a warning from her mother not to go anywhere near Sade, which of course makes her all the more curious.

At the same time, the film shows us Sade's mistress (Marianne Denicourt), who must conduct an affair with a politician (Gregoire Colin) in order to guarantee Sade's safety at the prison.

Emilie visits Sade often and becomes ensnared by his words. He attempts to stage one of his vulgar plays using the prisoners as players (Quills used a similar idea). But when the play is thwarted by authorities who wish to use the lush estate to dump dead bodies, the prison's inhabitants begin to sense that their days are numbered.

At the last moment, Sade sets up a purely Sadian sexual awakening for Emilie, involving a pouty groundskeeper boy and acting himself as a kind of referee. This becomes the movie's only real titillation -- it's otherwise quite demure.

Indeed, Sade is more concerned with Sade's ideas than with his actions. The movie achieves as great an impact by keeping these thoughts hidden as Kaufman did by showing them; the ideas are sensed rather than seen. Most of the movie's success comes from Auteuil's performance. He's an undeniably French presence (best known for Jean de Florette, Manon of the Spring, Girl on the Bridge and The Widow of St. Pierre), but also quiet and intense, earthy and potent. His stare can be just as lascivious as another Sade might be pulling down his pants.

It's interesting to note that the thoughtful Sade comes from a country with a reputation for sexual indulgence, and the playful Quills comes from a country with an unhealthy, repressed view of sex.

In either case, all of us can use a little dose of Sade from time to time to help put things in perspective -- no matter what kind of package he might come in.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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