Quills instead looks at the Marquis de Sades later years while incarcerated in the asylum Charenton

When most people of think of the evil depths that man can sink. One name is always on the list, the Marquis de Sade. He was so perverted, so evil and twisted that the word sadism was coined to describe his actions. There have been several films that have dealt with de Sade, most pertaining to his sick activities. Quills instead looks at his later years while incarcerated in the asylum Charenton.

Quills is set after de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has been there for 27 years. Now, 61 years old he holds himself together is to write stories of perverse sexual adventure which he smuggles out to a publisher by means of a lusty young laundry maid Madeleine (Kate Winslet). She is enthralled by the stories and over time become friend and confidant of the Marquis. In charge of the madhouse is a young priest, Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix). Ever confidants that even the wicked soul of the Marquis can be saved is his caught between the need to save others and the ever-present desire he feels towards Madeleine. Once the word gets out that de Sade is still publishing his twisted tales the emperor sends a man to help straighten out the situation, the dreaded Doctor Royer-Collard (Michael Caine). The doctor’s approach to mental health is akin to the Marquis’ ideas of love making, painful, twisted and enjoyable to the administrator of the treatment. This sets up an interesting series of juxtapositions, good versus evil, desire and devotion and sanity against madness. The doctor is in charge of the asylum but he is no better than de Sade. He purchases an underage girl form a convent to become his bride. The wedding night was little more than a brutal rape, not only of the young girl’s body but her innocence as well. The priest is guilty of the sin of lust but tries his best to avoid it in himself and to help others. Madeleine is lusty and full of life but is stunted in her growth by having to work in the madhouse to care for her blind mother.

The title of the film comes from the method de Sade employs to maintain his ‘sanity’. It is only by writing is he able to sublimate his desires. When Quills and paper are taken from him he uses anything at hand to write, chicken bones and wine to hair and his own blood. This story demonstrates the ability of the human spirit to be confined, albeit in a very strange manner.

This is an acting masterpiece. Each role is perfectly cast and played. Rush once again shows that he can command the screen. Even in scenes where the Marquis is stripped bare of all possessions, including his clothing, Rush presents the character as maintaining control and his dignity. Rush has range that few actors can even aspire to gain. As shown in Shine, he plays an obsessive character like none other. He owns this role. Winslet had a lot to do to make up for her previous role in Holy Smoke. Her acting style is a bit strange, she draws you into understanding her role in an almost off handed manner. The role of Madeleine would be very difficult for a lesser actress but with Winslet the role is performed with grace and flair. She is a natural as a lusty, natural young woman trying to balance family obligation and sexual desire. Phoenix seems to never take an easy role. He always chooses a role that is different from any he has done and he as grown tremendously in his craft as a result. While in Gladiator he was the pompous emperor, here he is meek, mild and confused. He gives some of the best moments in the film as he tries to go toe to toe with such twisted individuals as the Doctor and the Marquis. He can then move without effort into a tender scene opposite Winslet. The real gem of performances is Caine. Well know for his likable roles he takes the audience by surprise as the sadistic (no pun intended) doctor. By the light of day he is refined, taking great pains in the decoration of his new home. By night he creeps into the bedchamber of his virginal bride to introduce her to the pleasure her pain will bring him.

Philip Kaufman does it again as a director. Adding to a resume that includes ’the Right Stuff’, ‘Henry and June’ and ‘Rising Sun’ he brings a visually intriguing style to Quills. His use of light is soft while outside the asylum, harsh and brutal while inside. Each scene in Quills is painted in the screen in a style that will remind you of the artwork of post revolution France. There is no denying it, Kaufman has style and works well with his Director of Cinematography. The scenes in the asylum are like a nightmare that Salvador Dali would have after a late night pizza. They are a mélange of bizarre actions by the hideous inmates of the asylum. In contrast to this are the scenes of how the staff live in the madhouse. The are a perverse as any inmate. Kaufman shows that there is a thin line between what the mad do publicly and the so-called sane do in private. This theme is drive home with the actions of the good Doctor with his youthful bride.

The Quills disc is well made. The video is anamorphic 1.85:1. The clarity is amazing especially true in many of the dark scenes in the asylum. During the fire scene you can see every flame as it consumes the set. The audio is 5.1 Dolby. The rear speakers provide a hollow and empty feel to Quills. Little sounds bounces off the walls. There are three very strange featurettes provided along with a commentary by the screen writer. In all, Quills is a very compelling film.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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