on May 25, 2004
"Les Liaisons Dangereuses" by Choderlos de Laclos is one of my favorite books. I've seen all the other adaptations, and with a cast like Jeanne Moreau and Gerard Philippe I was really looking forward to seeking this one. Well... the performances are great, but the film leaves a lot to be desired. In contrast to the more recent TV film with Rupert Everett and Catherine Deneuve, it does not fare quite so well in adapting the story to a 20th century (1950s/early 1960s) setting. Making Valmont and Merteuil (Juliette in this version, perhaps a reference to the Marquis de Sade's anti-heroine) husband and wife rather than ex-lovers was a really bad idea, since it totally alters their dynamic and removes one of the key elements in the characters' motivation: Valmont's pact with Merteuil that she will spend the night with him if he can seduce the pious Madame de Tourvel. Also, the film feels very "rushed," especially toward the end -- 106 minutes just isn't enough to do justice to this story and these characters.
There are some very good touches: Valmont's break-up letter to Tourvel -- which, in the novel, he copies verbatim from a letter Merteuil writes to him -- becomes a telegram dictated by Juliette. This is also the only film adaptation of the novel which preserves the theme of Merteuil's disfigurement and "her soul turning out on her face"; the novel's smallpox becomes a fire in the film. The final image is very arresting. But it's not enough to make up for the scant characterization and the other flaws of this film.