Directed by: Stephen Frears
Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Runtime: 119 minutes
It’s such a film. And it could have been a real contender.
The movie is about former lovers – Marquise and Vicomte – who are planning to do a duo for them to have their own revenges – Marquise to her former lover Bastide who is incidentally going to be married to the daughter of her cousin, Vicomte to Madame de Volanges by seducing the virtuous woman Madame de Tourvel.
Marquise manipulates the proceedings, but Vicomte is his tool for her revenge to take effect. They arranged a deal to each other in a way that they would be some sort of tag team since Marquise offers Vicomte a reward whenever he does succeed in his revenge.
Revenge takes its toll and Vicomte is already in deep shame as they succeeded in manipulating those that are around them. But VIcomte wants what he expects – the reward. And Marquise is just set to have her biggest war.
I don’t know. I cannot express the whole plot in a few words because it’s such a movie that has a lot of things in it. It’s like Howards End – the story’s beautiful but you just can’t look for the adequate words to describe it.
To be simply put in words, Dangerous Liaisons is fantastic!
First of all, its direction is quite marvelous. Just as what I have said a while ago, there are a lot of subplots in this, but Frears makes sure that we are all in one boat, going to one destination. It’s about manipulation, his film, but he never makes us feel that this film is just manipulating us to be also like the characters. We are in that story, we are in the place. And we are excited by the events.
I don’t know this, but I got the scope of the film. That one great scene in the opera house. At first, we think we are just in the point of view of one of the characters watching it, and suddenly, the camera turns and we see that Marquise is just one of them, and we go upwards to see the other characters. Maybe I’m just being hypnotized by this film’s greatness, but that specific scene is one of those scenes that really puts you in the place, therefore captivating this atmosphere of the era.
And I’d like to mention the modern feel in it. It was not constructed as some Gone With the Wind type costume drama, albeit we get this feeling that it’s quite recent. And I love it for that. Just for comparison, I hated the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice because it tried to be so modern and its moves are just so forced. But when I was typing this, I kept thinking, why did I love this undeniably modern drama while I hated this other one?
The answer: it’s not forced.
We are just being caught by the events. We drive with it. Right from the start of the film, the director uses this quite haunting image of a hand opening this envelope, sort of invitation, and what we see inside? “Dangerous Liaisons.”
And the start is like an invitation. We are here to be in this dangerous liaisons involving different characters, not to mention the fact that it created the very sexual and at the same time, “dangerous” feeling of it. And the nomination snub is just unforgivable.
The cinematography and editing are masterful. For the count, it is a costume drama, but it never gives the bore that most costume dramas give. Instead, it is one edge-of-your-seat experience for me. You never let go of the tension, the emotions are exploding, and there is this clash between evil manipulation and eternal virtue, embodied by the excellent actors John Malkovich and Michelle Pfieffer (more of this later).
It gives us the feeling of being there, as what I have said a while ago, and because of that, we are able to feel it. It’s almost that we can touch the things. Maybe I’m overstating right here, but those two things are just bringing us in the place, and it gives us an experience. A grand experience.
The music is majestic. It gives me the thrilling mood of the film. And to give such respect to the material and to grace the movie with such captivating music is quite awesome. It’s biggest achievement is the opening credits itself. It just takes your breath away right from the start. It’s a powerful medium that the movie was really blessed with. Its congruence to the blasting clarity this movie offers is just wonderful to be witnessed.
The production is just dead-on. Costume design? Art direction? It has it. And they look so authentic, and it really played a part in being there.
What have I forgotten?
Oh, that magnificent screenplay. That screenplay!
The screenplay could just be one of the best screenplays ever. And that says a lot. It is very intelligently written and it’s so in its time but you don’t feel that you’re lost. Those words that comes out like water from a river is just amazing to watch. I mean, who could have imagined those words naturally come out of them? Those are rich statements. Magically, though, they are always in sync with the characters. And the vocabulary is just brought up high here without being obvious. It’s natural.
And the acting is marvelous.
John Malkovich is great here. He controls his character with such greatness that you feel that he’s really it. In spite of that, he could also be the only flaw in the casting. I agree that he delivers Vicomte, but I just go back to one word – reason. Is there any reason for a woman to be seduced by him? Frankly, I think he’s unattractive. But that problem is really unobvious once you watched it already. Needs a nomination.
Uma Thurman is delicious as the innocent Cecile de Volanges. She’s innocent. And she’s deflowered. And she’s brought into an unexpected pregnancy. And for her to deliver such professionalism in that early part of her career is just astounding to watch. She’s one of the victims here. She’s been taken advantage with Vicomte and brainwashed by Marquise, her dear inspiration. Her talk about with Marquise about the sex with the three men is fun to watch because she invokes this valued innocence, she’s still a child. And to see that being destroyed by the evil is devastating to watch.
Michelle Pfieffer is awesome as Madame de Tourvel, the biggest victim in the story. She’s the virtuoso of good breeding, of sacredness, of holiness, of dignity, of manners, of grace. She never does anything wrong, but she never lets us feel that it’s one-note. We see her life shattered by the manipulations of her lover, Vicomte. And it’s a big tragedy for us to see it right in front of our eyes. In a way, we see beauty stained with sorrow.
She is one happy woman. She observes the sacrament regularly, and yet, when Vicomte came, it’s her world that went upside down. And we sympathize her, we care for her, because we see this supposedly tragic prey of manipulation being devoured by the demons of the manipulator. And it’s a fantastic turn for her because one misstep and you have an awful performance. But here, what we have is the portrait of untouched virtue.
Plus point: I felt the pain she’s undergoing.
And if we have the virtuoso of manners, who could forget the virtuoso of deceit?
Glenn Close owns this movie!
It’s true that she doesn’t have the biggest amount of time here (she only has 35% of the screentime, more of this in her upcoming performance profile here), but she has the biggest responsibility of carrying the whole movie. She, first of all, is the manipulator. She manipulates everything here. And she does that by what? Sitting around, giving carefully delivered monologues and conversations.
But what does her sitting around count of? She is one big force of nature. Marquise is a strong woman, someone not to be fooled or even played against with. She is one fierce wave of revenge ready to destroy lives. And Glenn does it in a very superior way.
First of all, her character is very calculated, but never unpredictable. She holds the scythe of evil here. She would do anything just for her plans to come true. And Glenn is just so in it. She invests so much in it that you know that in just one evil smile and glance, you know there’s a lot of meaning in it. She manipulates people by words, and we are only given hint of her background through her eyes. And she does it quite well.
Also, there is this certain fact that Marquise is an epitome of vanity. Her first scene is touching her skin, her smooth skin which has been layered by powder. And what do we have in the end? Her removing it.
That ending is arguably one of the most haunting endings ever. Because on how deafening the silence was and on how loud her action was. What was she doing there at first? Well, after one shameful event, she decides to remove her make-up – powder, lipstick, etc. And then, when we finally see the manipulator’s real face, we see a victim. We discover that it was not really her, she just needs to be evil for her to survive the world of superiority. Maybe she’s the victim, maybe not, but she certainly attacks the character with flame.
Also, there is also one hint of character change in her – the way she discovers that Vicomte is dead, she throws the powder and she crashes the mirror. That is one of the most awesome and greatly acted breakdown scenes in the history of cinema because on how she destroyed herself. She still holds the superiority, but she’s starting to lose it. And it’s more of an image self-destruction. Why? Because that’s her. The powder, the mirror – those are components of her character. And it’s one great clue to what she really is up to. It’s an all-time best performance, a performance that must be seen to be believed.
I cannot see any glaring faults, and I dare anyone to show me at least one, if ever there was because it’s a flawless masterpiece that deserves to be remembered and to be watched all over and over again.
For this, the movie gets:
What are your thoughts, dear reader?
Note: Sorry for not posting that much. Lots of activities keep me from finishing this as soon as I have wanted. But I'm doing my best. Anyway, I am really excited for the next year! If you want to guess, I'd give you a clue: the winner was about a word that a character said in this movie.