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Fox Searchlight
Official Site

Director: Philip Kaufman

Producer: Julia Chasman, Peter Kaufman, Nick Wechsler

Written by: Doug Wright

Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Billie Whitelaw

Rating: out of 5

Deliciously witty and delectably erotic, QUILLS delves into the sordid life of provocative writer Marquis de Sade (the man we can thank for the word "sadism").With heavy breathing over the opening credits, this historical fiction playfully romps through the first half and gathers momentum that will leave viewers breathless in the end.

As the opening scene shows a woman being prepared for her untimely end at the guillotine, Sade's voice-over-"one changes from predator to prey,"-reveals an introspective view of his life that sums up his declination. The movie opens with Sade, incarcerated in Charenton asylum, surreptitiously slipping his latest manuscript to the voluptuous chambermaid, Madeleine (Winslet). Under the benevolent watch of Abbe de Coulmier (Phoenix), Sade is allowed to put his quill to paper for emotional release.

The publication of Sade's newest book, Justine, infuriates Emperor Napoleon, who sends the alienist, Dr. Royer-Collard (Caine) to cure the "mentally diseased" Sade with torture methods that bring the Dark Ages into the light. To illuminate Royer-Collard's hypocrisy, Sade writes a farcical play mirroring the doctor's marriage of a 16-year-old girl straight out of the nunnery and his cruel methods of demanding his husbandly rights. This scene, resembling the play scene in Hamlet, incites Dr. Royer-Collard's cruelties to the Marquis de Sade.

When the doctor orders Sade's quills and paper taken away, in attempt to strip Sade of his only power, the Marquis artfully substitutes wine and blood for ink and bedsheets and clothing for paper. The quill, an obvious phallic symbol, represents Sade's sexual potency and power. When taken away he crumbles into a mad, pitiful shell of a man.

Meanwhile, the film also concerns itself with the budding romance between Madeleine and the Abbe. The only problem is the little black-and-white collar around the Abbe's neck. His desire for Madeleine grows so intense that he later flagellates himself like John the Savage in Huxley's Brave New World. He also punishes himself by committing necrophilia before the Virgin Mary.

Summing up this movie as a treatise on freedom of expression would underestimate its multi-faceted intent. QUILLS boldly develops multiple themes-art as expression of pain, repression of desire as a road to imminent downfall, and hypocrisy as a tool for destruction-artistically and with great ardor, and even throws in a bit of political subtext involving Clinton and the Starr reports. Assisted by thoughtful, seductive acting and swirling plot narratives, QUILLS will keep your eyes glued to the screen to see which character falls next.

-Jennifer Prestigiacomo

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

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