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Con men and pre-revolutionary France are my two narrative weaknesses, and Dangerous Liaisons comes very close to providing everything I've ever wanted.

I'm not going to beat around the bush: these are not good people. They're pretty terrible! Valmont in particular is creepy, and probably a rapist, and I will never make apologies of any kind for him, and while Isabelle might not be quite that level of depraved, she's still deeply manipulative and careless about people. It doesn't make them any less fascinating, though, unpleasant representations of their time and class as they are. When I saw the play performed at Stratford, one of the professors I was seeing it with dismissed it at the intermission, because he said there was no value to narratives about unredeemably terrible people. Yes, I'm someone who consumes that kind of story like they're going on style, but I think there is real merit to unflinching pieces like this, because there are unquestionably people lie that in the world, and they have stories to tell as well.

Keanu Reeves continues to be incredibly annoying and out-of-place in period pieces. The end.

I admit, the pseudo-redemption of Valmont through his death -- and partially, his love for Madame de Tourvel -- is deeply frustrating, as is the intense humiliation of Isabelle. It feels like the film has, in fact, chosen to make apologies for Valmont by placing the blame for his actions on Isabelle. She manipulated him and refused him sex, so of course he had to go out and...ruin people's lives. The reason the two of them are so good together is because they are perfectly matched, just as much as that's why the two of them could never be happy, even if it was love. They're equally powerful products of their era. For that reason, in fact, I would probably lean in favor of Isabelle in any situation, because she's taken the limitations placed on her as a woman and created an aura and commanded respect without ever really drawing attention to herself. Valmont didn't go through any similar struggle, and yet in the end he does win, even though she is better at this, and I find it frustrating and a little appalling that it's a narrative directors are still willing to go along with.

However, it's still really good! Very, very good, in fact. Everyone except Keanu Reeves is in top-form, and the allusions to the coming Revolution aren't nearly as heavy-handed as I've seen them elsewhere. This period makes for such fascinating work because it centers on groups of people with very little to do except talk, about everything, and so it comes across inherently well in any medium with actors, and Dangerous Liaisons is no exception at any turn.
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scriptamanet

January 2012

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