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QUILLS (2000 - R)
QUILLS is a erotically quixotic film that tells of the mayhem one perverse genius provokes after his lusty paperbacks are smuggled out of a French insane asylum and mass published. Set in 1794 Paris, QUILLS is an erotic tale of love, lust, and denial that unfolds the many complicated relationships of all involved in the tragic life of the notorious author, the Marquis de Sade, and his soon to be predecessor, the unlikely Abbe du Coulmier.
Directed by: Philip Kaufman. Written by: Doug Wright.
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Romance.
Rated: R for strong sexual content including dialogue, violence, and language.
Set in Paris 1794, the narrator, who will feature in the film later, tells of the tragic fate of the sexually precocious Mademoiselle Reinart. Due to her noble birth Mademoiselle was apt to run rampant the country with her wily ways, inflicting pain on every man's heart, until one day, a man with equal power was able to undermine her sexual mischievousness and have her decapitated.
That man, so the film suggests, is our narrator, the author of her tale, and future protagonist/antihero; the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) who, as the film pans ahead years later, would wind up in the Charenton Insane Asylum. There a handmaid by the name of Madeleine (Kate Winslet) is helping our narrator, (Geoffrey Rush), smuggle his writings out into the public; which are to be mass published as the latest dime paperback trash novel. Though an instant success with the commoners, his latest tale, that of a bishop's sexual indiscretion, the emperor Napoleon is all too unhappy with the filth and orders and instant seizure of all texts and the execution of the author. But the emperor's personal assistant insists that they send the iron-willed Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to the rescue: thus begins our story.
As Dr. Royer prepares to break the Marquis of his lusty habits, Madeleine runs off to his quarters with the latest news that his publisher requests another story immediately. But, the Marquis will only surrender the next romance one page at a time, and in exchange for each page, she must grant him a kiss. Of course the Marquis begins to take advantage of his newfound liberty and only by the grace of the head Abbe's, Abbe du Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) entrance is she saved from a damaging sexual indiscretion. Yet another patient seems taken by the maiden, and the intimidating goliath of a man will soon spell tragedy concerning the fate of Madeleine, the Marquis, and the Abbe.
Nevertheless when Dr. Royer sheds light on the Marquis's underground publication to the ignorant Abbe, the latter is forced to implore the Marquis to terminate his publication for the sake of keeping the Charenton facility in operation. Meanwhile the staunch defender of civil behavior, one might say hypocrite, Dr. Royer, goes to the nearest abbey where he claims his bride to be, the indecently young virginal bride, Simone (Amelia Warner). Seeking refuge in town, Dr. Royer and his bride to be head to a dilapidated estate where he will personally see to her incarceration; that is he will place bars on her windows and a latch that locks the door from the outside. Of course his obscene relationship becomes the latest scandal of the town and as it leaks from person to person. Eventually it reaches the Marquis who becomes quite inspired to use the scandal as the content for his latest farce, which he will ironically perform at the weekly asylum playhouse, of which, Dr. Royer is to be the esteemed guest of honor. But of course a farce is only funny insofar as it is not personally relevant and instantly recognizing the thematic content, the insulted Dr. prepares to seek vengeance by way of shutting down the Charenton Theater.
Though the Marquis insists that his play was an innocent mirroring of reality, albeit an insulting one, the Abbe is forced to seize his quills and parchment; leaving him a Bible for holy inspiration. Though the Marquis desperately implores that he leave him the company of his characters; still, no inspiration is to be found. What is to be found however, is his wife who arrives with a stash of chocolate on behalf of love's loyalty. But without writing utensils the Marquis has a fit of rage and denounces his relationship to the one woman whose loyalty to her husband has left her a damned woman, deemed both socially and religiously unacceptable. Desperate, she seeks the help of Dr. Royer; help in the way of imploring that the Marquis remains forever incarcerated less he cannot be truly cured of his perverse habit. Cunningly the equally perverse Dr. Royer contrives a plan that will enable him to ensure the Marquis' inevitable incarceration while simultaneously absolving his wife of her social slander.
But the Marquis will not be cured, nor will he be silenced and soon discovers innovative ways to write, including a bed sheet, some blood, and a quill. Meanwhile Dr. Royer's incarcerated wife, the blooming Simone, begins to take quite a liking to both the Marquis's lusty romances and the architect, Prioux (Stephen Moyer). After a prompt invitation the two engage in a lusty affair and run away into the sunsets of destination anywhere, leaving Dr. Royer with only a pat 'adieu' by means of a letter. Enraged, the Dr. seeks vengeance but has yet to find the proper opportunity. However, when the Abbe prepares to send away Madeleine as a result of his 'impure' feelings, she implores the Marquis to once more tell her a final tale as a farewell present.
Prepared to transcribe the story via an incarcerated version of "telephone", the Marquis's raunchy novel is sent from one cell to the next until it finally reaches the eager hand of Madeleine. But as the lusty novel reaches its climax, so too is the building tension mirrored in the Marquis' maniacal apprentices. Compulsively one inmate sets fire to his cell creating total chaos in the asylum. The result is the total annihilation of Charenton's cellars. Of course the guards have to free the inmates who run rampant with sexual desire and mayhem upon release. But it seems the lusty inmate who nearly raped Madeleine a few weeks back is on the loose and Madeleine is missing. Trying to discern her voice from the chaotic screams of the freed inmates, the Abbe attempts to locate her in vain. As the Marquis cries out for her safety, Dr. Royer believes him to have affections for the troubled girl and leaves her to the tragic peril of one sick inmate's perverse desires. A devastated Abbe discovers her body too late and is left to grapple with the lust and the guilt of his ambivalent relations for the woman he loved.
As he begins a masochistic lifestyle the Abbe attempts to save the Marquis from absolute sin, thus curing them both of their transgressions. Believing that one way to absolve his own sins is to indirectly redeem the Marquis before his death, the Abbe attempts to read the Marquis his final rights. But the Marquis won't give him so much the pleasure and taking the cross off his crucifix, the Marquis chokes himself to death. Of course his suicide prevents his entry to heaven and, driven mad by the unfortunate series of events, the Abbe will unsuccessfully grapple with the overwhelming guilt. As the story comes full circle yet another year later, our beloved narrator leaves us in the hands of a new narrator; the Abbe, whose "blood stained, unwholesome tale" we may be obliged to hear. That tale, one may presume, is the tale that is QUILLS.
QUILLS is an erotic, suspenseful drama that finds success in its witty dialogue, solid performances by the likes of an A-list cast including Michael Caine, Joaquin Phoenix, Kate Winslet, and of course, Geoffrey Rush, and scrupulous historicity. The direction of the film was fluid and it was rather enjoyable to observe the minute detail to the sets, costumes, and dialogue of the characters that all conflated so as to give as accurate a representation of 18th century France as possible. Just after the historical French Revolution, and in the midst of the rise of the Romantic Movement, the film's sensual content perfectly reflects the radical historical context of the era.
QUILLS will be memorable for its more than witty euphemisms as well as snappy one-liners and pat phrases. More importantly, QUILLS will be remembered for the character of the Marquis de Sade; the lusty antihero who is a perverse transformation of the prototypical Romantic hero. Geoffrey Rush did a wonderful job bringing the sinister, diabolical, perverse, and at times, maniacal components of the brilliant yet twisted genius of one man and his lusty dime back novels. Though a fictitious tale, the context is wholly realistic and applicable to the era which was filled with thousands of naysayers and revolutionists attempting to turn heads, promote sensuality, and of course, hold a condescending mirror up to the faces of the self-denying pompous aristocracy of the time. All in all QUILLS is a delightfully erotic story that edifies the senses with its sharp dialogue and visual tastefulness, which, in its clean artistry, contrasts brilliantly with the overtly euphemistic language of the film. Not for younger audiences, however, QUILLS is a sophisticated film that adult audiences should find rather enjoyable.
QUILLS was nominated for 3 Oscars including Best Actor in a leading role (Geoffrey Rush), Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. QUILLS also had another 13 wins and 26 nominations by critical film associations.
Geoffrey Rush plays the precariously sexual yet diabolical Marquis de Sade.
Kate Winslet plays the tragically rapturous and inquisitive handmaiden Madeline ‘Maddy' Le Clerc.
Joaquin Phoenix plays the conflicted Abbe du Coulmier; head authority of the Charenton mental asylum.
Michael Caine plays the nefarious uber-authority Dr. Roer-Collard.