Threat advisory: High - High risk of entertaining activities
Meet the Marquis de Sade. The pleasure is all his.
Imperious, choleric, extreme in everything, with a dissolute imagination the like of which has never been seen... there you have me - in a nutshell, and kill me again or take me as I am, for I shall not change. - From the last will and testament of the Marquis de Sade
Witty, seductive and deliciously sinister, Quills is a compelling portrait of the passionately obsessed and the dynamics if morality, freedom of expression and consequence.
Banished to a secluded Paris asylum, the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush), whose groundbreaking works changed the language of sexuality and literature, continues to threaten the moral conservatism of Napoleon's France by secretly smuggling out his spicy manuscripts with the help of the asylum's most alluringly innocent member: the young maid Madeleine (Kate Winslet). The asylum's young priest, François Simonet de Coulimer (Joaquin Phoenix), humanely tries to rehabilitate the Marquis' twisted soul while keeping Madeleine at a safe distance, both from the Marquis and himself. Through the endless days and nights at the asylum the two opposing men form a tentative relationship of mutual tolerance. But, neither is willing to admit the one secret they have in common - their feelings for Madeleine.
The three form an unlikely and dangerous love triangle that proves to be the ultimate test of the priest's sanctity and the Marquis' wrath.
Theatrical propaganda posters
Target demographic movie keyword propaganda
- Film biography Marquis de Sade literary revolution insane asylum sex sexuality
Persons of interest
- Geoffrey Rush .... The Marquis de Sade
- Kate Winslet .... Madeleine 'Maddy' LeClerc
- Joaquin Phoenix .... The Abbe du Coulmier
- Michael Caine .... Dr Royer-Collard
- Billie Whitelaw .... Madame LeClerc
- Patrick Malahide .... Delbené
- Amelia Warner .... Simone
- Jane Menelaus .... Renee Pelagie
- Stephen Moyer .... Prouix, the Architect
- Tony Pritchard .... Valcour
- Michael Jenn .... Cleante
- Danny Babington .... Pitou
- George Yiasoumi .... Dauphin
- Stephen Marcus .... Bouchon
- Elizabeth Berrington .... Charlotte
- Edward Tudor-Pole .... Franval
- Harry Jones .... Orvolle
- Bridget McConnell .... Madame Bougival
- Pauline McLynn .... Mademoiselle Clairwill
- Rebecca R. Palmer .... Michette
- Toby Sawyer .... Louison
- Daniel Ainsleigh .... Guerin
- Alex Avery .... Abbe du Maupas
- Terry O'Neill .... Gaillon
- Diana Morrison .... Mademoiselle Renard
- Carol MacReady .... Sister Noirceuil
- Tom Ward .... The Horseman
- Richard Mulholland .... Fop
- Ron Cook .... Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte
- Julian Tait .... Pawnbroker
- Deborah Vale .... Sister Rose Fatima
- Tessa Vale .... Sister Flavie
- Doug Wright .... Playwright
- Doug Wright .... Screenwriter
- Philip Kaufman .... Director
Cinematic intelligence sources
- Quills official movie site
- About the Marquis on the marquee - Doug Wright
- Studios and distributors:
Special Agent Matti
Geoffrey is best when filling the shoes of a larger than life character in a film that is itself larger than life. No-one can accuse either the Marquis de Sade or Quills of being anything less than larger than life.
As a period film, Quills is redolent with the unwashed bodies of the insane, festering inside a darkened mansion which has been converted into a madhouse. Their minds, however, are brightly lit by the incendiary witticisms of the Marquis. Like any good film about the insane and their keepers, Quills blurs the lines until you can no longer say who is keeping and who is kept. Cool.
Meanwhile, the antics of Monsieur le Marquis are not so wild to a culture raised with censorship ratings that tell you which films have the best Violence, Sex, Drugs, Coarse language and Adult themes, but his inflammatory prose burns its way into the hearts and minds of the people of Paris, both pro and anti (if they didn't read it they couldn't be upset by it, could they?). He is the Quentin Tarantino and the Larry Flint of his day. What does come across strongly is the sheer, luscious enjoyment of naughty things which are kept for the bedroom in the post-Victorian society that you currently inhabit. The rediscovery of cleavage brought about by the wonder bra is a step away from such prudery but it is the sort of thing that was taken for granted back then.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même.
However, it's time to wrap up this somewhat unstable review. The film is as lush as Kate's plump, juicy breasts, as crude as Geoffrey's pointed tongue, as black as Joaquin's hair dye and as dirty as a donkey's ass. (Geddit? Donkey's ass! Geddit?!) Enjoy on a full stomach.
Security censorship classification
MA 15+ (Adult themes, medium level sex scenes, medium level violence)
119 minutes (1:59 hours)
Not for public release in Australia before date
Film: 19 September 2001
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No such luck. For almost two centuries, scholars, critics and fellow artists have been rooting about in Sade's grave, in an effort to form a conclusive portrait of the man. Opinions are wildly divergent. Some heavy-duty thinkers - Artaud, Nietzsche, Kraft-Ebbing, Angela Carter and Camille Paglia among them - rank Sade as an overlooked genius; a professor emeritus of evil. A few even praise Justine as a work to rival the satire of Jonathan Swift. The surrealists adopted Sade as their patron saint, citing him as "the freest spirit who ever lived."
Others - like Louis Bongie and Roger Shattuck - are far less generous; they're loath to see Sade resurrected at all. His writing is attacked as monotonous, his philosophy sophomoric and his impact on the world of letters merely toxic. They claim that his sole contribution to world culture is entomological at best; the term "sadism"' is derived from his name. Shattuck even calls Sade a "vicious evangelist" and suggests that he is culpable for inciting the Moors Murders of 1965 and the serial killings of Ted Bundy.
Whose assessment is correct? Was Sade a vile pornographer or an oft-maligned genius? Or... more troubling still... was he both at once?
Sade's fiction is more extreme than anything we might find in contemporary culture. His prose is scathingly funny one minute, repugnant the next; it careens from acute social satire to masturbatory fantasies to scenes so depraved - so preposterous they set a new benchmark for perversity in literature. In Sade's 1795 novel Philosophy of the boudoir, an elderly dowager is forcibly infected with syphilis. In Justine (1791), a vampiric husband ritually bleeds his wife to death. And in Juliette (1797), Sade's most monstrous heroine performs a black mass with the Pope, disemboweling a pregnant waif on the Vatican's altar. Coprophilia, mutilation, necrophilia and pederasty are staples of Sade's oeuvre. Intercut with these prolonged sexual escapades are philosophical diatribes more nihilistic than Nietzsche; chaos reigns supreme in a godless universe, brute strength trumps morality at every turn and violence is the only sure route to pleasure.
Read in sequence, Sade's novels do, in fact, offer a compelling - and unintended - profile of their author. It is impossible to separate the writing itself from the circumstances in which Sade wrote; a fallen aristocrat who weathered the French revolution, he spent over 30 years of his adult life in prison, for crimes ranging from rape to pornography. His tales were hatched in dungeons, prison apartments and mental asylums throughout late-eighteenth century France. The stories seem to spring like gorgons from a vast, ever-replenished well of rage. Sade writes to vent at the hypocritical forces which oppress him; to stave off his own madness; and to gratify himself carnally in the confines of prison, in fantasies which escalate with the correlative length of his interment. All his volcanic emotions - entombed within four walls for almost half his adult life - erupt onto parchment with the force of a natural disaster. One moment, he is grandiose; the next, infantile. Like many of his characters, Sade registers as an amalgam of our basest appetites, stripped bare. He is grotesque and seductive at the same time.
Because Sade so completely synthesises the romantic notion of "writer as madman" he's been a potent rorschach for many other artists: Peter Weiss, Yukio Mishima, Nobel Prize-winner Octavio Paz and the filmmaker Pier Paolo Passolini have all forged work based on Sade's canon. (Unsurprisingly, most of Sade's fellow artists tend to adopt a comparatively sympathetic view.) And given the extremity of his prose, Sade raises inevitable and necessary questions about the very nature of art. What is its true function in a culture? To uphold society's tenets, or to challenge them?
To reassure, or to agitate? to buttress those institutions which shape civilisations - the government, the church - or to expose them? Does political oppression actually breed - rather than stifle - provocative art? What happens when we silence our extremists? What happens when we give them voice?
As I began to write Quills, these questions were more important to me than a literal, biographical account of Sade's life. (Real lives rarely have narrative and thematic continuity and they can seldom be compressed into two hours. Furthermore, I could never claim the Sade I conjured would be "'accurate." Inevitably, he would be a jumble of assorted facts and my own suppositions.) So I gave myself a gift; that liberating concept known as "poetic license". I knew that if I truly wanted to convey Sade's spirit - not the raw data of his life, but his own dark, venomous aesthetic - I would need to draw as much upon his fiction as I would upon the ever-growing pile of biographies upon my desk; to write with the same malicious glee Sade himself must have felt as he catapulted his way through 120 days of Sodom or Justine. I've re-ordered facts, forged composite characters, and created new ones. Many of the film's climactic moments are purely fictitious. I've even put words in the late Marquis' mouth, composing stories in his style rather than plagiarise his novels.
I hope the film reaches beyond the notorious man at its centre to speak to a twenty-first century audience. I've endeavoured to follow the example of my betters, plucking Sade from the musty pages of history in an attempt to address critical issues in our time. I pray that he doesn't mind the intrusion, especially in light of his last request. Suffice it to say, I'd hate to be on his bad side.