Quills

Movie Review by EDF

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine

Director: Philip Kaufman

Prepare yourself to view the most shocking, sex-filled pornographic movie ever filmed for commercial cinema. Here perverse pleasure is exploited beyond the limits of human decency to fulfill ones sexual desire. Definitely not one for the faint hearted or so some reviews of this movie would have you believe. Perhaps we can forgive reviewers for living in the past, say around 200 years ago give or take a decade. What this movie is actually about is the fictional account of the last days in the life of one of the most sexually explicit writers ever, the Marquis de Sade.

Originally a stage play, Quills is mostly set at Charenton Asylum where the Marquis de Sade, played expertly by Geoffrey Rush, is imprisoned for the contents of his literary output. The Marquis has befriended the young laundress Madeleine, played by Kate Winslet, who is captivated by the Marquis’ work. To help in the rehabilitation of the Marquis, he is allowed to continue writing to extradite the demons from within himself. Unbeknown to the supervisor of the asylum Abbe Coulmier – played by the ever-impressive Joaquin Phoenix – the Marquis smuggles his writing to a publisher with help from Madeleine.

Unfortunately, even though his latest book is billed as Anonymous, the book falls into the hands of Napoleon who knows only too well who wrote it. Disgusted, he sends Dr. Royer-Collard, played by Michael Caine, who uses the most inhuman methods to cure his patients. When the doctor arrives at Charenton, Abbe Coulmier – as a man of religion and compassion – feels that his position as head of Charenton is at risk as the doctor does not feel any emotion for the residents in the asylum. When the Marquis says that the doctor is a man after Sade’s own heart, he is literally not far from truth.

We also find that the doctor had long ago purchased an orphan from a convent to be his bride when she had come of age. Unfortunately, he decides to collect his purchase a little earlier than he should and brings her to an abandoned mansion that Napoleon has granted him. He hires an architect to fill the mansion with whatever his new wife wants so that the outside world will not corrupt her young mind. When news of this gets back to the Marquis, he decides to humiliate the doctor and change the billed play he and the inmates are to perform for visitors to the asylum.

Concerned as to where things might be heading from the Marquis’ actions, Coulmier is forced to take a much firmer approach with the Marquis and takes away his writing utensils. As a form of bribery to help continue his ‘recovery’, the Marquis tells Coulmier that Madeleine would give him pleasure if he allows the Marquis his quills. Although disgusted at the suggestion, this stirs hidden feelings Coulmier has for Madeleine. As for the Marquis, every time they take away his writing privileges, he comes up with more inventive ways to continue.

Director Philip Kaufman visually shows how Charenton changes from an idealistic place to one that takes on a very dark and haunting tone under Dr. Royer-Collard. The performances from the lead roles are top notch but the only worrying thing is will the cinema audience accept the subject matter? As a study of human behaviour, the answer to this question will still evoke arguments for a long time to come – was Sade a vile pornographer or an oft-maligned genius or was he both at once?

5 out of 6 stars

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