Year of Release: 2000
Director: Philip Kaufman
Approx. Running Time: 124 minutes
My Rating: 5 stars (Out of 5)
From Back Cover:
Academy Award winners Geoffrey Rush and Michael Caine join Oscar nominees Kate Winslet and Joaquin Phoenix in this provocative film filled with delicious desire and wicked wit.
Rush gives a tour-de-force performance as history's most infamous sexual adventurer, the Marquis de Sade. A nobleman with a literary flair, the Marquis lives in a madhouse where a beautiful laundry maid (Winslet) smuggles his erotic stories to a printer, defying orders from the asylum's resident priest (Phoenix). The titillating passages whip all of France into a sexual frenzy, until a fiercely conservative doctor (Caine) tries to put an end to the fun, inadvertantly stoking the excitement to a fever pitch.
Quills is not about the Marquis de Sade.
Quills is about sex and desire. It’s about madness. It’s about creativity, expression, censorship, and the effects art has on those who consume it and those who produce it. It is about the strength and will of people to be free. It is not about the Marquis de Sade. It is not a bio-pic. It is not a history lesson. Do not take any of the events you see as fact. They are not.
“Homo perversio: a species that thrives in captivity.”
The film is a (near completely) fictionalized account of de Sade’s last days, locked away in an insane asylum, directing other inmates in plays put on for the public and secretly slipping erotic manuscripts to a black market publisher.
Geoffrey Rush is riveting as the Marquis, reveling in de Sade’s libertine attitude and unwavering insistence on creative, sexual, and intellectual freedom, even in the face of imprisonment and abuse. Whether dressed in full costume, powder and wig or stripped completely bare, Rush’s de Sade exudes confidence and incorruptibility. He is the film’s conscience. He is the film’s soul.
Which seems an odd thing to say about a historical figure infamous for his sexual perversions. But this de Sade is perhaps far less perverted than the two men who strive to silence him. One is a barbaric doctor of the times (Michael Caine, in fine form), who believes in curing “God’s tiny blunders” with brutal “calming chairs,” floggings, and other means of torture and who imprisons his teenaged wife in an opulent chateau. The other is a kindly priest, director of the asylum, who seeks to treat his wards through humane methods and who considers the Marquis his friend, but – under pressure from the doctor and Napolean – is driven to ever increasing acts of cruelty and inhumanity. His moral ideals are corrupted too by an unrequited desire for a virginal chamber maid (Kate Winslet). The priest’s journey from wide-eyed idealism and innocence to wild-eyed depravity is masterfully portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix in what I believe is his finest performance.
But the film does not preach its ideas of morality and freedom. The lessons are there but they’re dressed up in wonderfully entertaining scenes full of humor, paranoia, and thick tension. And there’s plenty of eye candy to take in, from the stunning sets, gorgeous costumes and the people – oh the people. Phoenix’s Abbe du Coulmier can make a girl (or boy) think some very, very impure thoughts. Winslet is charming and beautiful as always (though her one nude scene is more shocking and repulsive than erotic). But most surprising to me was (then 17 year old) Amelia Warner, captivating and incredibly sexy in her role as the doctor’s wife. She easily transforms her character from innocent young girl to enchanting seductress. Fans of True Blood may also delight in Stephen Moyer’s (Vampire Bill) small role as the young architect who is employed to renovate the doctor’s chateau and falls victim to the charms of the young woman imprisoned there.
Of his work, the de Sade of this film says: “I write of the great eternal truths that bind together all mankind the whole world over. We eat, we shit, we fuck, we kill, and we die.”
Be prepared to see all of the above.
Rated R (MPAA)