Directed by Philip Kaufman
Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <email@example.com>
The 7:00 showing of Quills at the Angelika Film Center was packed. As the movie ended no one moved. The whole audience sat through the entire credits and then slowly began to stand and exit the theatre. Some hushed voices could be heard, but not many. It was impossible to tell from people's faces whether or not they liked the movie. Everyone simply looked overwhelmed. I too was overwhelmed: battered, amused, and disturbingly aroused by this sumptuous and almost brilliant movie.
Quills takes place largely at Charenton, an asylum for the criminally insane where the Marquis De Sade (Geoffrey Rush) has been held since the end of the French Revolution. The Marquis continues to publish his scandalous and extremely popular pornographic novels by smuggling the manuscripts out of Charenton with the help of the Chambermaid, Madeleine (Kate Winslet). Charenton is run by the young Abbe Columier (Joaquin Phoenix) who encourages the Marquis to write out rather than act out his impure thoughts but is unaware of the Marquis' continued publishing. The Marquis' newest work angers Napoleon who sends Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to observe the Abbe's methods and to "cure" the Marquis. A power struggle ensues between the Marquis, the Abbe, and Dr. Collard as they fight for control of the asylum, each other, and their own desires. Madeleine and the inmates are caught inside the power struggle.
Like the Marquis De Sade himself, the film is indulgent. The dialogue is brilliant and specific, delivering its many themes with wit and style. The costumes by Jacqueline West support each character and reflect their inner conflicts and changes. The film should be seen for the Marquis De Sade's suit of words if for nothing else. The physical production designed by Martin Childs is full of detail and provides wonderful counter points to the action. In one scene, a crucifix hangs near the head of an inmate as he whispers the Marquis' obscene stories through a whole in his cell.
The acting is magnificent. Geoffrey Rush throws himself into his role and rips and snorts his way through one of the best screenplays this year. Every other actor in the film follows suit. Joaquin Phoenix is particularly good and mostly matches Rush and Caine in the power and depth of his portrayal. Phoenix falters a little at the end of the film, but he is given a nearly impossible task by director Philip Kaufman and writer Doug Wright: He must speak dialogue identical to dialogue spoken earlier by Rush. The comparison between the two actors is inevitable and not favorable to Phoenix.
What keeps Quills from surpassing very, very good and becoming brilliant is that it tries to do too much. More characters and story lines are introduced than are truly needed and this takes time away from fully developing the main four characters and their conflicts. There are also too many themes. Not content with tackling hypocrisy, the dangers of sexual repression and definitions of vice and virtue, Wright and Kaufman also pack in religion, faith, definitions of art and artists, rehabilitation versus punishment and many others. There is simply not enough time for it all and the audience becomes saturated, unable to hold any more ideas or respond to any more crises.
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