Monday, May 4, 2009

Les liaisons dangereuses (Roger Vadim, 1959)

One of the best films about heartlessness ever made, largely because of the fine work of Jeanne Moreau as Juliette and Gérard Philipe as Valmont. The story is taken a long way from the 18th-century roman of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, but the dynamics are surprisingly faithful.. Setting most of the action at a ski resort is especially brilliant, because it’s at once full of glamour and quite enclosed. For a while the film seems to be a sort of sex comedy, especially with the seduction of the young cousin Cecile (Jeanne Valérie), who is in love with fellow student Danceny (Jean-Louis Trintignant) but engaged to an exceedingly dull fellow chosen by her family. Cecile is very comely, and the post-seduction scene when she lies nude on her stomach doing her geometry homework and Valmont rests the textbook on her bum—it’s sweet and amusing.

Inevitably, the whole thing turns sour when Juliette steals Danceny and forces Valmont to abandon the virtuous Marianne (Annette Vadim) with whom he’s actually fallen in love. Moreau is strong and beautiful and twisted, a tour-de-force acting job. At last, an angry Danceny strikes despairing but still glamorous Valmont, who falls and hits his head on an andiron and dies. Juliette accidentally sets her clothing on fire trying to burn their awful letters. Marianne goes mad when she learns of Valmont’s death, and with a trance-like smile talks softly about the imaginary home they might have had together. "Rose, rose..." she murmurs.

The photography is really fine, and the best additional thing is the wonderful music by Thelonius Monk and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. It’s even better than I’d remembered it from many years ago. Watching this makes the American versions--Dangerous Liaisons and Cruel Intentions seem all the more flat and bland and listless.


Dale Katherine Ireland said...

Kevin, I did not know about this film version. Thank you for your post.

Dale Katherine Ireland said...

Kevin this is the best version of the film. I first read _Les Liaisons Dangereuses_ when I was an undergrad at Berkeley. I saw several film versions of the epistolary novel, but not this one. Your "notice of release" is spot on!