Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Dangerous Liaisons [2003] (4 Stars)

I've been trying to get my hands on this film for years, and now I've finally succeeded. It's the 16th film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 2003, whatever I might have written in my list in the sidebar. I knew about the film, of course, but I forgot to leave a gap for it. When I have time I'll go back and renumber the list.

"Les Liaisons Dangereuses", to give the film its original name, was made as a three-part mini-series for French television, but it was later edited into a film. I watched the film version today, and if my information is correct a lot was cut out in the editing. The original mini-series was 252 minutes long, 3 x 84 minutes. The film is only 189 minutes. Even if the start and end credits and short recaps aren't counted, it still means that at least 40 minutes of the film itself is missing. I can hazard a guess, because one of the important plot details is dealt with very briefly in what I saw today. I wish I could get my hands on the original mini-series to compare.

This is one of two films that Leelee Sobieski made in French. The other is "The Idol", made a year earlier. This was possible because she was educated bilingually and can speak fluent French. The film I watched today has been dubbed into English, and fortunately she dubbed her own voice.

The film is based on the 1782 French novel "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. Supposedly it's one of the world's most often filmed novels, having inspired more than a dozen films in different languages. The only two novels that have been filmed more often are "Tristan and Isolde" (about 20 times) and "Dracula" (more than 50 times). I'm only talking about adaptations of Bram Stoker's original novel, of course. There are hundreds of films that include the character of Count Dracula in newly written stories.

The original novel is set in the palaces of the kings and noblemen of France in the 18th Century. This adaptation retains the names of the principal characters, Valmont, Merteuil, Tourvel and Volanges, but they're aristocrats living in Paris and St. Tropez in the 1960's. Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil is jealous because her lover has left her to marry a much younger woman, Cecile de Volanges. She's closely acquainted with an infamous womaniser, Sebastian de Volmont, so she asks him to seduce Cecile and get her pregnant before the wedding. Sebastian agrees in principle and says he will begin after a two-week holiday, but he stays away longer because he falls in love with his married cousin, Marie de Tourvel. Growing impatient, Isabelle hires a handsome young violinist, Raphael Danceny, supposedly as a music teacher, but actually to tempt her away from her fiancé. Cecile and Raphael do fall in love with one another, but Raphael is too much of a gentleman to consummate the relationship, so Isabelle begs Sebastian to finally seduce Cecile.

Sebastian has immediate success with Cecile, but Marie resists his advances. This leads to the absurd situation that he pursues Marie romantically every day while sleeping with Cecile every night. Eventually Raphael finds out about Cecile's "affair" with Sebastian and leaves her to begin a relationship with Isabelle.

That's just a brief summary of the plot. So many other things happen that you need a scorecard to keep up. This is an intricate drama of epic proportions. I can understand why the story still fascinates people all over the world 235 years after it was written.

Don't be too harsh on Sebastian. Like most womanisers, he's a slave to his own desires. It's not just a sexual matter, it's also about his pride. After years of successes with women he most desires the women who say No to him. That's the reason he wants Marie so much. When she finally falls for him he loses interest. He leads a lonely life.

The really evil person in the story is Isabelle de Merteuil. She's willing to destroy the lives of any number of people in order to avenge being insulted.

Needless to say, the main actors, Catherine Deneuve, Rupert Everett and Nastassja Kinski all play their roles perfectly. However, they're overshadowed by the prformance of Leelee Sobieski as Cecile de Volanges. She can never do anything wrong.

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