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QUILLS

SYNOPSIS:
The infamous 18th century pornographer, Donatien-Alphonse-François, Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) is languishing in jail. Although middle aged, he remains defiant and takes humanism to its most extreme conclusion: ‘If it is in my nature to be cruel, then that is my natural morality’. He manages to smuggle his writings out of jail with the help of the laundress, Madeleine (Kate Winslet), and resists attempts by the prison’s boss-priest, Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) to reform. He also resists the more violent forms of reform meted out by the King’s messenger, Dr Royer-Collard (Michael Caine); he will never be silenced – nor, more to the point, his writing quills quietened.

"Outrageous and sometimes bordering on brilliant, sometimes on silly, Quills is nevertheless an engaging film, its subject as perverse as Hannibal Lecter, equally depraved, and of an equally towering intellect. Geoffrey Rush makes the Marquis de Sade a foppish figure, decadent, determined, desperate and devilishly deranged. Funny, even. His is a performance of great dynamics and quite theatrical, but it still works on the screen, partly because he is just a very good actor, partly because the period and this character allow him that oversize performance. Still, the film generates a tone reminiscent of a circus boasting freaks at whom we gaze with benign amazement. We are dragged to de Sade’s bosom, as it were, enjoined to his crusade of guilty pleasures even as these become life threatening and sexually violent. (The film tones this latter element down, but it is there.) This jokey mood – especially in the first half – together with some of the silly, melodramatic propositions such as de Sade writing lengthy works using his own blood and later, excrement, reduce the film’s credibility and hence its potential impact. But many sequences are scorchingly entertaining with the bravado of their writing and execution, much aided by a full blooded production design. The intellectual and moral battle that de Sade wages is transformed into a crusade for free speech purely by say-so. It reminds me of the man refused a visa to Australia because he propagated Holocaust-denial propaganda. Where does one man’s freedom of speech turn into another man’s moral poison? Quills plays on this question but doesn’t quite nail the matter. Perhaps there are champions of free speech with more going for them."
Andrew L. Urban

"Anyone who has ever been seduced by the written word will be fascinated by Quills, a gripping and compelling tale about obsession. Everyone is a prisoner – be it of the mind, the heart or the soul; quills provide the means to escape. For the Marquis de Sade (what an astonishing showcase for Geoffrey Rush), writing quills offer the freedom beyond the walls of the insane asylum, allowing his imagination to soar. Madeleine (Kate Winslet, ravishing) relies on the Marquis' stories to trigger her own imagination, while Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix, empathetic), hides his emotions behind his priesthood. And Michael Caine's Dr. Royer-Collard locks his sexual inadequacies behind a mask of conservatism and hypocrisy. His bride, the innocent Simone (Amelia Warner, lovely) uses words to become worldlier than her upbringing allowed. Rush is magnificent: we are shocked, repulsed and moved all at once. The contrast of styles between Rush, Phoenix and Caine works to great advantage: each creates one side of a triangle, eventuating into life's inevitable circle. The script is witty and well measured, while evocative direction, gorgeous production design and a complex music score keep us riveted from beginning to end. It's a dizzying trip down the road of sanity and we wonder indeed who is more sane – those behind or in front of locked doors. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest meets Dangerous Liaisons. What a potent mix. How fine is the line between predator and prey! A tale of contradictions, this is a drama about extremes and opposites, raising the pros and cons against punishment as opposed to encouragement. Torture has many guises and conscience can be as harsh as steel bars. By the time the tale reaches its enthralling climax, we are totally committed to the characters and the story. Intelligent and powerful, Quills engrosses and stimulates in a magnificent journey into the abyss of the mind."
Louise Keller

"What I admire most about Quills is its contemporary relevance. The Marquis de Sade may be an impossible figure to approve of but what he stands for in this wonderfully entertaining study in excess is the idea of freedom of expression. It's worth remembering that in the 1790's de Sade's works enjoyed popularity and unrestricted rights to publication before Napoleon's moral crackdown in the early years of the 19th century. Quills is a reminder of how changing political climates can affect artistic freedom and how those restrictions will always begin with what's deemed to be the most offensive (and likeliest to win public approval in a crusade) before other works and their authors are targeted. If we truly believe in such freedoms we must accept the rights of the de Sades and the American Psychos to exist - even if we don't like them. Phillip Kaufman's adaptation of Doug Wright's play presents a modified version of de Sade that is entirely appropriate - any wholly accurate account of his hideous deeds would be unfilmable and unwatchable. This is more about the mind of the beast than the body and the issues raised behind asylum walls are fascinating and compelling. There's the hypocricy of Royer-Coullard (the character is said to be based on Lewinsky scandal investigator Kenneth Starr), whose own dark proclivities are exposed by his adversary; the irony of a young priest forbidden to act on his desires, unlike the appalling old letch he's attempting to rehabilitate; the cheerful enjoyment of de Sade's purple prose by the buxom (and virginal) Madeleine. Impeccably performed by a classy cast Quills is a surprisingly accessible and intriguing foray into merits of good and evil. Rush, brilliant again, carries de Sade's torment beautifully and balances the act with a dynamic portrayal of de Sade's other face - that of a scandalous reprobate with an evangelical belief in himself who at least declared his perversions openly and without any protective shield such as science or God. There are some wonderfully witty moments and the performance of de Sade's bawdy play in front of Royer-Coullard and his child bride is every bit the rib tickler its author intended (and yes, that is the wonderful Edward Tudor Pole, who sang Who Killed Bambi in The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, as one of de Sade's enthusiastic players). The only disappointment for me was a slightly dragged out ending that could have arrived two or three scenes before and made a more powerful closing statement. In every other respect Quills is a work of art that may not quite be to die for but ranks as one of the best films of the year thus far."
Richard Kuipers

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

Read our FEATURE

Read Brad Green's SOUNDTRACK REVIEW (with audio excerpts)

See the TRAILER

QUILLS (M)
(US)

CAST: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine

DIRECTOR: Philip Kaufman

PRODUCER: Julia Chasman, Peter Kaufman, Nick Wechsler

SCRIPT: Doug Wright

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rogier Stoffers

EDITOR: Peter Boyle

MUSIC: Stephen Warbeck

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Martin Childs

RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 1, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE (Rental): September 19, 2001

VIDEO RELEASE (Retail): September 18, 2002







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