Les liaisons dangereuses [Dangerous Liaisons] (2022)

Les liaisons dangereuses
Director: Rachel Suissa
Writer: Rachel Suissa, Slimane-Baptiste Berhoun
Based on: Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s novel
Cast: Paola Locatelli, Simon Rérolle, Ella Pellegrini, Héloïse Janjaud, Jin Xuan Mao, Oscar Lesage
Seen on: 4.9.2022
[Here are my reviews of other adaptations of the novel.]

Content Note: misogyny

Célène (Paola Locatelli) just moved to Biarritz from Paris, leaving behind her fiancé Pierre (Aymeric Fougeron). Just after her arrival, she meets surf champion Tristan (Simon Rérolle), more or less local celebrity and one half of the power couple of their school. The other half is Vanessa (Ella Pellegrini), child actor and star. What the people around them don’t know, though, is that they’re not actually together, but rather pretend for social media fame. They spend their time by making bets and manipulating the people around them. Tristan is intrigued by Célène, especially her promise to Pierre to marry him and stay a virgin until then. Vanessa uses that to make a bet with him, daring him to seduce her. But things become really complicated when Tristan and Célène find themselves drawn to each other for real.

The novel Les liaisons dangereuses is one of my favorites (despite some issues I do have with it), so I was really excited to get this new adaptation – the first one by a woman, if I’m not mistaken. But unfortunately, the modernization here didn’t work for me at all.

The film poster showing the central characters, with Célène (Paola Locatelli) front and center.

At its heart, Les liaisons dangereuses is a story about power and how power corrupts. In this take on the story, the measure for power is not money, but social media fame (or so they claim), completely ignoring that Vanessa and Tristan are super rich, too. And they are both white, while Célène is Black. It is not only disappointing that race and class were excluded from the way power works here, but also that they don’t actually really engage with the social media side of it, apart from some overlays and handheld camera work. In short, the film is not actually interested in taking the heart of the story seriously.

In fact, it doesn’t take anything seriously, turning this dramatic and often very dark story into a comedy. And it’s not impossible that this could work, but you’d have to put a whole lot more effort into it. Instead, much like with the power analysis, the comedic tone gets rid of the teeth of the story. In the end, everything turns out well which means that all the dangerous manipulation that came before it is actually pretty meaningless and barely harmful (most notably in Charlotte’s (Héloïse Janjaud) plot).

Tristan (Simon Rérolle) and Célène (Paola Locatelli) smiling at each other.

My biggest hope for a modernization of the story would actually be that it engages critically with the misogyny of the original and gives the Marquise de Merteuil a different, more sympathetic reading. With a woman at the helm of the project, I thought my chances would be pretty good, but the movie is having none of that. It leans into the misogyny hard and with relish.

Even if I try not to compare the film with the source material, the flippant tone and desperate coolness of the film just doesn’t work. It feels more like that “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme with Steve Buschemi than actual engagement with youth culture. I mean, I’m old (and not French), so maybe I’m completely mistaken about this, but the film had me cringing more often than not because it all felt so fake. And that just isn’t how stories work.

Tristan (Simon Rérolle) talking to Célène (Paola Locatelli) on the beach.

Summarizing: ugh.

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