Retro Review: Quills

One of the most colorful figures in French history has always been the Marquis de Sade.

The Marquis was perverted, demented and experimental.

He claimed that he knew the gateway between pain and pleasure.

During his sadistic quest it is said that he was a magnificent lover.

The Marquis’ exploits were frowned upon by the upper class and when the Marquis became involved with one of them he was thrown into a mental institution. Where his erotic tales of pleasure were born.

Loosely, that is the story forefront for the new motion picture, “Quills”. “Quills” opens with the Marquis (Geoffrey Rush) already locked up and slowly going insane. Trying to save the Marquis from himself is a padre named Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). Coulmier does his best to make the Marquis comfortable by giving him a lot of luxuries.

One of those luxuries is the ability to write. Mad, luxurious, and extremely sexual works begin flowing from the hand of the Marquis. These works become the obsession of the Marquis chambermaid (Kate Winslet) who is so very curious to envelope their unbridled passion. As the Marquis finishes his first most famous work entitled, “Justine”, the chambermaid assists him in getting it to his publisher.

When the institution becomes a mockery of society and the novel becomes a best seller, the “powers that be” hire a new doctor to tame the Marquis and oversee the institution. His name is Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) and he may be sicker than the Marquis could ever imagine. How will these characters but heads? Will the Marquis corrupt the doctor’s teenage bride? How will the asylum change with a new master in the house?

“Quills” is a Geoffrey Rush movie from beginning to end. Rush’s presence captivates us as we plummet deep into the world of the Marquis. What I loved about his performance was the passion and depth.

It’s one of the finest I have seen in recent memory. He is electrifying and surreal as he submerges in the passion of the Marquis. Delivering passion, torture and spiritual abandonment is quite difficult to convey in a just a look. It also doesn’t help when you are nude for half the film. It’s purely amazing.

I would also like to mention the other performances in the film. Joaquin Phoenix is as brilliant here as he was as the tortured Roman prince in last summer’s “Gladiator”. Phoenix should get nominated this year for one of these brilliant performances.

Kate Winslet is as powerful here as she has ever been and I did love how she could play against Rush and not get swallowed alive. Kind of like what happened to Julia Roberts in “Mary Reilly” when she faced off against John Malkovich’s Dr Jekyll.

I also really liked Amelia Warner who plays the doctor’s bride. This relative newcomer has a brilliant knack of delivering a performance that subtly changes from innocent bride to scheming vixen. It’s a very interesting and engaging.

The only performance that I found was out of place was veteran actor Michael Caine who seemed to have the weakest character and performance in the film. I am sure with his brilliance he could have found some faucet of depth for the doctor who is a creation of society. I liked his presence but every time he was on screen he really never brought anything new.

I also loved how the film created the debate about who was more insane, the doctor or the Marquis. I mean with the Marquis you have control which is directed into his writing and with the doctor you see his blatant corruption of his young, innocent and very virtuous fifteen year old bride, Simone (Amelia Warner). Who is more insane? Which figure dictates a saner approach to the 1760s France?

If you really think about it, the Marquis isn’t really that insane if you compare him to that time’s society. I mean the people back then were cut-off from sexuality and any mention of it was a sin. If the Marquis was let loose in the 1960s I don’t really think he would have been described so much as a deviant. In the doctor’s case, he is a deviant even today. Isn’t it amazing how society changes and how society dictates who and what we are?

To conclude, Quills is one of the best pictures of the year. Sadly I do wonder if Oscar will overlook it because of its extremely sexual content.

(4.5 out of 5) So Says the Soothsayer.

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