Dangerous Liaisons

Released:  1988

Cast:  Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer, Swoosie Kurtz, Keanu Reeves, Mildred Natwick, Uma Thurman

Oscar Wins:  Best Adapted Screenplay (Christopher Hampton), Best Costume Design (James Acheson), Best Art Direction (Stuart Craig, Gerard James)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Actress (Glenn Close), Best Supporting Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer), Best Original Score (George Fenton)

SUMMARY:  In Paris in 1781, the widowed Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) lives as she pleases, taking and disposing of lovers at will.  However, she becomes extremely angry when one of them leaves her first:  the Comte de Gercourt has decided to get married, and wants to marry a virgin.  He chooses Cecile de Volanges (Uma Thurman), the daughter of Merteuil’s cousin (Swoosie Kurtz).  Merteuil decides to get her revenge by ensuring that Cecile is not a virgin when she marries Gercourt; she asks her friend, notorious womanizer Vicomte de Valmont (John Malkovich) to help her.  However, Valmont is uninterested in the quest, as he thinks it will be extremely easy to seduce Cecile.  He is also preoccupied with another conquest:  that of Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is well-known for her religious fervor (and therefore, her chasteness and purity).  Valmont thinks that this is a much more interesting prospect, as it will be more difficult to seduce Tourvel.  Merteuil thinks this is an impossibility, and arranges a wager with Valmont:  if he succeeds in seducing Tourvel, and can provide written proof, she will also sleep with him.  Valmont then leaves for his aunt’s house, where Tourvel is a guest.  He finds that Tourvel is as religious as rumored, and steadfastly refuses all of Valmont’s attempts to develop a relationship.  Valmont then has his page intercept all of Tourvel’s mail, and learns that Cecile’s mother, Madame de Volanges, has been warning Tourvel of his reputation.  To get revenge on Madame de Volanges, Valmont decides to take part in Merteuil’s plan after all.

In Paris, Cecile has fallen in love with Chevalier Raphael Danceny (Keanu Reeves), her music teacher.  She confides this in Merteuil, who encourages the relationship — only to reveal it to Madame de Volanges, who is horrified at her daughter’s actions.  On Merteuil’s recommendation, Madame and Cecile also go to stay at Valmont’s aunt’s house.  Valmont pretends to be a go-between for Cecile and Danceny, but instead gains access to her room and forces himself on her.  Cecile again confides in Merteuil, who advises her to take advantage of the situation, and take as many lovers as she can.  Cecile then begins to welcome Valmont’s nightly visits, while keeping up correspondence with Danceny.  By day, Valmont continues to (unsuccessfully) pursue Tourvel.  He is forced to change his actions so as to seem like a moral, generous man in order to stay in her good graces.  His efforts go on for so long that he actually falls in love with Tourvel, much to the amusement (and scorn) of Merteuil.  Valmont actually does manage to sleep with Tourvel, but as he does not have the demanded written proof, she refuses to honor her end of their agreement.  She adds a new condition:  to prove that he has not gone soft (and to win her back), Valmont must drop Tourvel while only saying “It is beyond my control”.  Things get worse for Valmont when Cecile, who has gotten pregnant by him, suffers a miscarriage.  Merteuil again turns Valmont away, revealing that she has been manipulating him all along.  The two openly declare war, and both take quick action.  Valmont tells Merteuil’s new lover — Danceny — of Merteuil’s manipulations of him; Merteuil counters by telling Danceny that Valmont is sleeping with Cecile.  This last revelation leads to a duel between Valmont and Danceny in which Valmont is fatally wounded.  Before he dies, he asks Danceny to communicate his love to Tourvel, who is also dying.  He also gives Danceny all of Merteuil’s letters, which are then revealed to the rest of Paris.  The next time she goes to the opera, Merteuil is booed by the other people in attendance.  Cecile, whose actions are also revealed, becomes a nun.

MY TAKE:  Boy, Glenn Close plays a crazy woman like nobody else.  Except maybe Kathy Bates.  There’s a dream matchup:  Kathy Bates against Glenn Close — who plays the better nut job?  Close has a history of playing rather disturbed women:  there’s this movie, Fatal Attraction, and even 101 Dalmatians (after seeing this as a kid, I thought she was British for a long time).  It was pretty clear to me from the start that her character, Merteuil, was manipulating virtually everybody around her — including Valmont, who didn’t seem to realize it.  The twisted thing is that she apparently really did have feelings for him (I couldn’t tell by the end), because she absolutely flipped (and flipped everything around her) when he was killed.  I’m impressed that she could keep track of all her schemes, because I was confused a few times.  Apparently most of the nobility have nothing better to do than sleep with everybody around them, with no regards for morality or the consequences.  Personally, I don’t think it sounds that enjoyable, but it makes for some intriguing scheming.  As expected with a movie set in pre-Revolutionary France (and one that won a couple Oscars for Art and Costume), the costumes and scenery are amazing.  I wouldn’t want to have to wear, them, though, after watching Glenn Close get dressed at the beginning of the film (especially since everybody has their boobs pushed up to their eyeballs).  An interesting (I can’t call it “fun”) fact:  John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer, who played Valmont and Tourvel, had a real-life affair while making this movie, which resulted in the breakup of Malkovich’s marriage.

Fun fact:  Glenn Close found out she was pregnant with her only child while filming Fatal Attraction; she started filming this movie only seven weeks after giving birth — which makes those corsets even more impressive.

Fun fact #2:  Glenn Close was nominated for five Oscars in the 1980s.  Ironically, she’s good friends with perennial Oscar nominee Meryl Streep, who had seven nominations (and two wins) in that decade.

RATING:  Very good.


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