Re-Watch: Valmont (1989)

Valmont
Director: Milos Forman
Writer: Jean-Claude Carrière, Milos Forman
Based on: Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ epistolary novel
Cast: Colin Firth, Annette Bening, Meg Tilly, Fairuza Balk, Siân Phillips, Jeffrey Jones, Henry Thomas, Fabia Drake
Seen on: 1.2.2016

Plot:
The Victome de Valmont (Colin Firth) and the Marquise de Merteuil (Annette Bening) are thick as thieves, united in their love to manipulate and destroy the people around them, a skill they have so artfully mastered that their ploys don’t fall back on them. Both have a new project: Valmont is trying to seduce Madame de Tourvel (Meg Tilly) who is staying at his aunt’s (Fabia Drake) summer home and who is widely known for her morals and her loyalty to her husband. The Marquise, on the other hand, is looking for revenge on ex-lover Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones) who just got engaged to the naive Cécile (Fairuza Balk) who has spent practically her entire life in a convent. So she enlists Valmont’s help to completely corrupt Cécile.

Valmont is in many things much less faithful to the original novel than Dangerous Liaisons, but that doesn’t hurt the film one bit. It’s a fantastic, enjoyable film with a great cast.

valmont

[SPOILERS]

The biggest difference between the original text and Valmont is that Valmont is much more sympathetic with its characters, especially its women. In this version, Valmont realizes the havoc he wrought on the women around him, or at least what he brought on Madame de Tourvel and pretty much arranges his own death. Thus his death becomes less of a tragic redemption and more of a self-sacrifice to set her free. Of course, there is still an element of redemption to it, but the focus is significantly shifted.

This also becomes apparent in the ending for the women: Cécile gets to marry Gercourt and nobody is the wiser about her sexual misbehavior pre-marriage. She also doesn’t lose the child she conceived from Valmont and is actually happy about that (of course, we have to disregard the fact once more that her affair with Valmont starts when he rapes her. This also happens in this version, make no mistake about that). Her experiences with Valmont and the Marquise have given her a radius of action she didn’t have before. Madame de Tourvel reconciles with her husband after coming clean to him. Their relationship – which was always strong – seems to be made stronger by that and he supportively visits Valmont’s grave with her. The Marquise is obviously chastised by the events that unfolded, her social support is gone, she stands alone. But she isn’t completey destroyed and the movie doesn’t enjoy her downfall. There’s nothing to indicate that she won’t take up her schemes again the next day. Thus this version significantly dampens the misogynistic turn of the book at the end (that is rooted in the misogynist morale of the time), which I can’t help but love.

valmont1Additionally the film looks simply wonderful. Lavish costumes all around that don’t ever seem too cloying, despite the abundance of floral patterns. Extensive, detailed set-ups. All beautifully captured by frequent Forman collaborator Miroslav Ondrícek. And in that sumptous spread sits a cast who absolutely outdo each other with their performances. Starting with Fairuza Balk, who was only 14 at the time of shooting. But also Colin Firth and Annette Bening were great, despite the fact that they both were a little young for their roles. But then again, I don’t think their ages were ever specified that clearly.

In any case, Valmont is still my favorite take on the material (though I haven’t seen all of the adaptations and there are quite a few), although the NT production comes pretty close. If you only know the Glenn Close/John Malkovich version, do yourself a favor and watch this one, too.

valmont2Summarizing: Love it.

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