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Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush)
Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix)
Madeleine (Kate Winslet)
Dr. Royer Collard (Michael Caine)
Simone (Amelia Warner)
Directed by Philip Kaufman Written by Doug Wright, based on his play
Rated R for strong sexual content, dialogue, violence and language
Running Time: 124 minutes Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
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Quills is a different, chaotic and one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. The film is set in the 1790’s France and follows the latter years of controversial writer Marquis de Sade (Rush). The story is a fictional recreation that has Marquis sealed away in asylum for the insane. With the help of a young chambermaid named Madeleine (Winslet), Marquis sneaks his edgy novels, mostly about sexual desires and fantasies to publishers of the outside world. To this day, his writings are now considered historical and he is blamed for the creation of sadism. The head of the asylum is a young priest named Abbe Coulmier (Phoenix), who believes Marquis’ writing helps ease the demons from his head. However, Abbe has no idea that his work is being published. Learning of the underground success of Marquis’ recent novel, Justine, Napoleon orders the harsh Dr. Royer Collard (Caine) to oversee the asylum and stop Marquis’ writing. Collard’s treatment and presence just despises Marquis to where he only wants to write more, along with causing more problems for everyone. The story then shifts into a tornado of a tale full of power, art, anarchy, evil and love.

Some of the scenes in Quills are very hard too watch. The film is dark, psychological, and most of all controversial. It is sort like a blend between The Madness of King George and The Silence of the Lambs.

Phillip Kaufman precisely directs Quills. The director captures the eerie asylum look from the late 1700’s France and places his actors very carefully, almost as if they were chess pieces. I liked the way that Kaufman introduced each character and their relationships to one another. One example is the introduction of Marquis, in which I was expecting the character to pop out and scare Madeleine, but he doesn’t. The intro to Marquis is more psychological. Kaufman opens the film with Marquis’ voice over and then maybe a glimpse of his hand, eye, and cheek before the audience sees the whole character. A very dark scale film was created from Kaufman with intersecting stories of madness, perceptional love and powerful influence. I saw a lot of the visionary work to be very fearful, but steady with Kaufman’s fingerprints of patience. Doug Wright based the script for Quills from his stage play of the same name. Wright’s fictional perception of the Marquis de Sade works superbly. He leaves open the character with so many state of beings and actions that it is your own decision to whether he was a great writer or just a very sick man. Wright doesn’t emphasize on Marquis’ past murders too much, but he focuses more on his perverted mind of writing literature that people wanted to read without admittance. The beliefs and writing of Marquis control almost all of the other character’s discoveries. His influence stirs the disturbing chaos, love triangles and views throughout the story. The subplots tie in together one-by-one to create a sickly explosive ending. Wright also sums up everything in the film without leaving any loose ends or things unresolved. The dialogue shifts most of the scenes and seems to make to monologues and lines easier for the actors to deliver. Wright’s script is very well written and structured, but it is also at the edge with a cringing impact.

Geoffrey Rush is an insane explosive fireball as the writer Marquis de Sade. Rush transcends this character’s ideas and gestures so believably and exact. Upcoming star Joaquin Phoenix serves up his second excellent performance of the year (previous in Gladiator) as the priest Abbe. Phoenix has molded into a very fine actor that just seems to get better. Kate Winslet is seemingly balanced with her role as the chambermaid of the asylum that has an unexpected friendship with Marquis. Michael Caine is riveting with his role as the pain-applying Dr. Royer Collard. The cast of this film includes all of these acclaimed actors, and every one of them delivers an important performance to the film.

Quills is a film that is left mostly open to interpretation and opinion. I had never heard of the famous writer Marquis de Sade before I watched this film. After doing some research about him, I found myself understanding more of what Kaufman and Wright are saying throughout this film. However, the film’s harshly sexual incidents, aspects and embezzling issues will not hold well for most audiences.

Report Card Grade: B+

Beastman’s Movie Reviews
Copyright, 2001 Joseph C. Tucker

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