Here I am with another costume movie. After this one, this one, and this other one, yesterday I watched Dangerous liaisons, the 1988 film directed by Stephen Frears (I only knew one other, and very different, movie directed by him, High fidelity!) starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Uma Thurman, Keanu Reeves… in short, an exceptional cast.
The film is based on the epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses written by the French author Pierre Choderlos de Laclossi which was published in 1782. The story takes place in the mid-1700s in France and focuses on the nobles Glenn Close and John Malkovich who seem bored to death and kill time by playing with the lives of other people. Basically, these rich blue-blooded characters have nothing to do the whole day and challenge each other over conquering ladies, take revenge over wrongdoings or supposed ones, and flirt with each other in a more or less explicit way. The plot is too complicated to summarize it in a few lines, but it should be recognized that after familiarizing with the names of the various characters whose stories are intertwined, the director is capable of making us follow all the events without any difficulty whatsoever.
The thing that I liked the most about Dangerous liaisons is certainly its historical reconstruction. I’m anything but an expert of the period, but everything I saw seemed credible to me, no behavior seemed out of place, and the development of the plot could have easily been a true story. The fact that the story takes place in the same period of publication of the novel on which the movie is based clearly helps! Among other things, I find it interesting that the date of publication is 1782. Shortly afterwards, the 1789 revolution would have completely erased the French nobility of which the novel gives us such a negative image.
All the actors did an outstanding job. Not only the young Keanu Reeves and Uma Thurman are good (they were 24 and 18 years old, respectively, at the time), but the trio Close-Pfeiffer-Malkovich gives us a series of incredible performances. Glenn Close has a really poisonous look when she delivers her sharpest lines. Malkovich’s facial and body mimicry perfectly conveys the deceptive and sibylline nature of his character. And Michelle Pfeiffer phenomenally interprets the change from a pious soul to the lady consumed by love and lust. John Malkovich and Glenn Close are also great in portraying the changes in their characters, with Malkovich falling in love despite his will not to do so, and with the desperation eventually prevailing over the innatural calm of the seraphic Glenn Close. Chapeau!
I read that Malkovich was criticized for the too-“modern” interpretation of his character, but I think that he did a superb job in playing a bored, ruthless, and heartless nobleman who ultimately becomes a victim of his own perverse schemes. Another point of interest is the following: even if I haven’t read the novel, it seems to me that the film tried to be faithful at least to its epistolary nature, with written letters playing a crucial role for all the characters.
In short, I believe that even if the (dis)adventures of these 18th-century characters of the French society do not interest you, the movie will entertain you adequately thanks to its historical value and for its excellent technical department (direction, editing, and sound). Ciao!