Wellspring // Unrated // $24.98 // December 9, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted December 27, 2003
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Movie: There are few characters in history as well known for their sexual pursuits as the Marquis De Sade. The man left behind a fairly large body of work, from his books to his letters, although there has always been a bit of disagreement on whether he wrote everything attributed to him. In the late 1700's, during the French Revolution, aristocrats were not held in favor and the peasants' especially despised decadent aristocrats. The word sadismcomes from the man's name and his sexual debauchery is currently enjoyed by a small subset of the population who think pain is a part of pleasure. In a new movie about the Marquis, Sade, director Benoit Jacquot provides a somewhat tempered view of the man in a fictional account based at least in part on historical records.

The movie follows Sade's life as he enters a sanitarium. The place is full of aristocrats that await their date with the guillotine who can afford to pay for their room and board. The Marquis (Daniel Auteuil) is shunned by his fellow nobles since they consider his to be scum of the Earth, just as the revolting peasants do. He believes that only in excess can true liberty be found and in public, none will embrace the man or his values, even though in private he is something of a pillar for many of them. The duality of morality interests the Marquis since he sees right through their facades, believing what he does based on experience, not some superstitious belief in an afterlife. The man is not without his own duplicity, in order to delay his execution, he must disavow his writings and play a game with the committee in charge of cleansing France. The movie serves to gloss over many aspects of the real Marquis and present him in a far more favorable light than previous movies, although his corruption (he'd refer to it as awakening) of a young woman (Isild Le Besco) is not downplayed by any means.

The movie took the high road in most cases and avoided graphic violence for the most part, never showing the Marquis in the role we'd all probably think of him in (i.e.: he wasn't torturing people to get off), and the slow pace will likely turn more than a few viewers off. This is more of an intellectual exercise than similar movies and those with an interest in seeing the prurient side of the man would do well to look elsewhere. There was some sex and violence, but it was done in a manner that would lend itself to the belief that the Marquis was a great freedom fighter rather than a degenerate (I would ask why you can't be both) and the fine cast did a great job with some interesting material.

The direction was pretty solid as well and the technical aspects, while not perfect, contributed to what I now think of as a pretty good movie. I'm going to rate this one as Recommended for those who understand the content (and context) of the material but keep in mind that it is not an easy movie to watch at times. The underlying themes of truth and liberty are only part of the reason this one has solid replay value and I encourage you to check it out for yourself. It's not as good as some critics suggested when it played the arthouse theaters but it's better than others thought too..

Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 ratio color as originally shot. The picture appeared somewhat grainy and had a fair amount of minor video noise with some fleshtones off in the darker scenes but it was otherwise clear with no major compression artifacts.

Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround French track or a 2.0 Dolby Digital track, both with optional English subtitles. I think a lot of attention was paid to the audio with a good mix between the clear vocals and the clever music.

Extras: The extras included some filmographies and a 10.5 minute interview with director Benoit Jacquot and some of the cast. The interview was quite insightful and helped me understand some aspects of the hidden meanings of the feature.

Final Thoughts: Sade was not a common man although I wouldn't be surprised to learn that he knew more about men from all walks of life in relation to societal norms than the vast majority of self proclaimed experts even today. That doesn't mean he wasn't flawed in major ways, just that his observations often had some measure of truth to them. If truth be told, I liked the premise of the film even though I doubt it was accurate in its portrayal of the character from French history.

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