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copyright ©1999-2001

flick pick | Quills 2000
Directed by: Philip Kaufman
Written by: Doug Wright
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under:
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something:
artsy-fartsy, serious, witty
The verdict: ½/ 5 the rating system explained

Plot synopsis In post-Revolution France, sometime near the end of the 18th century, the Marquis de Sade sits locked up in an insane asylum under the kind care of Abbé Coulmier, a young priest whose humanitarian approach towards the treatment of the mentally ill is far ahead of his time. The Abbé encourages the Marquis to continue the very writings that lead to his imprisonment in the first place -- for the sake of therapy only, of course. Unbeknownst to the priest, however, laundry girl Madeleine befriends the Marquis and begins smuggling his writings to an outside publisher. The Marquis’ smutty tales are in huge demand on the streets of Paris, and when his lewd works are brought to the attention of Napoleon himself, the emperor promptly orders a renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Royer-Collard, to assume control of the Marquis’ case. Though the Marquis writes about the dark perversions of human nature, it’s the hypocritical doctor who practices them in real life, "rehabilitating" his patients through torture by day, and raping his teenaged wife by night. Though the doctor tries to prevent the Marquis from spilling his fictional tales of depravity onto paper by depriving him of pen and paper, it only serves to force de Sade to seek more creative methods of getting those naughty words and thoughts out of his head, and into the world. As the doctor grows more and more enraged at de Sade’s refusal to be silenced, things start to grow dangerous for all those who help the Marquis, including the beautiful young Madeleine and the good-hearted, though emotionally-tormented, Abbé.

Review Quills may be a movie that takes place in days of yore, in times when men wore funny wigs and women cinched their bosoms tight in corsets, but its subject matter is actually very contemporary. It isn’t so much a movie about the life of the Marquis de Sade as it is a comment on censorship, freedom of expression, and the sometimes fine line between art and pornography. The acting is Acting with a capital A – highly dramatic and occasionally over-the-top (particularly in the cases of Rush and Phoenix), but completely appropriate for a film that’s more about statement and message than it is about character and realism. We never truly get a sense of why Madeleine is so drawn to the Marquis that she’s willing to risk everything to get his work out to the public, but it’s a small flaw in an otherwise well-realized bit of moviemaking. The sets look gorgeous and the cinematography is lovely, and the very witty, devilishly raunchy dialogue is great fun. Balancing the depths of human darkness with many surprising moments of humor, Quills manages to extol freedom of speech without seeming all preachy and bombastic about it. Quills may be a period piece, but it’s far from being stuffy or dull. —reviewed by Y. Sun 

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