Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Miloš Forman|
|Music by||Christopher Palmer|
Valmont is a 1989 French-American drama film directed by Miloš Forman and starring Colin Firth, Annette Bening, and Meg Tilly. Based on the 1782 French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, and adapted for the screen by Jean-Claude Carrière, the film is about a scheming widow who bets her lover that he cannot corrupt a recently married honorable woman. During the process of seducing the married woman, he ends up falling in love with her. Valmont received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design (Theodor Pištěk).
In eighteenth century France, the Marquise de Merteuil (Annette Bening), a beautiful wealthy widow, learns from her cousin Madame de Volanges (Siân Phillips) that Volanges' 15-year-old daughter Cecile (Fairuza Balk) has been betrothed to a middle-age man named Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones)—Merteuil's own secret lover. Volanges confides in Merteuil that the arranged marriage required that Cecile be raised in a convent to ensure her chastity. Unaware that Merteuil is Gercourt's paramour, Volanges reveals that according to Gercourt, he is having trouble breaking off relations with his "former" mistress who is mentally unbalanced.
Angered over the loss of her lover and his slight of her character, Merteuil devises a devious plan of revenge. She approaches her former lover, the Vicomte de Valmont (Colin Firth), and proposes that he seduce the virgin Cecile prior to her wedding night when Gercourt will learn he was "not the first to arrive". Valmont declines Merteuil's request. He is more interested in pursuing Madame de Tourvel (Meg Tilly), a beautiful married woman staying at his aunt's estate. When the subject of infidelity is introduced, Tourvel insists she would never be unfaithful to her husband who is traveling abroad on business. Merteuil later chides Valmont for his desire for Tourvel and makes him a wager: if Valmont succeeds in bedding Madame de Tourvel, he may also bed Merteuil; if he fails, he must consign himself to a monastery.
After learning that Cecile's music teacher, Danceny (Henry Thomas), has been writing love letters to Cecile, Merteuil gains the confidence of the young girl who confesses she loves Danceny. Merteuil then convinces her cousin to allow Cecile to join her in the country while helping Cecile write secret love letters to Danceny. Soon after, Merteuil and Cecile join Valmont at his aunt's country estate where Valmont flirts playfully with the innocent young girl. When Merteuil suggests that Valmont help Cecile write a love letter to Danceny, Valmont agrees and ends up taking Cecile's virginity. When Cecile confides in Merteuil about her experience with Valmont, Merteuil encourages her young niece to marry Gercourt and keep Danceny as her lover.
Meanwhile, Valmont is unsuccessful in his numerous attempts at wooing Tourvel, who has been warned of his sexual scheming and debauchery. When Tourvel feels her defenses weakening and her attraction to Valmont growing, she flees to the city to get away from the temptation. After learning of her departure, Valmont rides to her residence and is there when she arrives. Surprised by Valmont's romantic actions and unable to resist her feelings for him, Tourvel finally returns his affections and they make love. In the morning, Tourvel leaves for the market to prepare a meal for her lover, but when she returns Valmont is gone.
Soon after, Valmont arrives at Merteuil's residence to collect his "prize" from her. When Merteuil refuses to honor her wager, Valmont leaves in anger. He goes to Cecile and convinces her to write Danceny a letter explaining that Merteuil encouraged her to marry Gercourt and keep Danceny as her lover. Tourvel later comes to Valmont and spends the night, leaving before he wakes the next morning. Later, when Danceny reads Cecile's letter, he visits Merteuil and threatens her, demanding she compose a letter to Cecile recommending that she call off her marriage. When Valmont arrives, he discovers that Merteuil has already seduced Danceny and revealed that Valmont took Cecile's virginity.
The following day, Danceny challenges Valmont to a duel set for the following morning. That evening, Valmont prepares for the duel by drinking himself into a drunken stupor. The next morning, Valmont arrives at the duel hungover. Refusing to apologize to Danceny for his actions, he charges toward the young man with his sword drawn, and allows himself to be slain. At the funeral, Cecile reveals to Valmont's aunt that she is carrying her dead nephew's child. The elderly aunt is overjoyed by the news. Cecile and Gercourt are soon married in a grand ceremony in the presence of the king, with Merteuil looking on—alone.
Sometime later, Madame de Tourvel visits the country estate and lovingly places a single flower on Valmont's grave.
- Colin Firth as Valmont
- Annette Bening as Merteuil
- Meg Tilly as Madame de Tourvel
- Fairuza Balk as Cecile de Volanges
- Siân Phillips as Madame de Volanges
- Jeffrey Jones as Gercourt
- Henry Thomas as Danceny
- Fabia Drake as Madame de Rosemonde
- T. P. McKenna as Baron
- Isla Blair as Baroness
- Ian McNeice as Azolan
- Aleta Mitchell as Victoire
- Ronald Lacey as José
- Vincent Schiavelli as Jean
- Sandrine Dumas as Martine
The script of Valmont differs significantly from the text. In Laclos's novel, Cecile has a miscarriage after being raped by Valmont; in Valmont, she is pregnant at her wedding. The letters between Valmont and Merteuil that lead to Merteuil's downfall in the novel are not mentioned in the film; Merteuil has no downfall except in the eyes of Cecile and her mother. She also does not suffer from the physical disfigurement described by Laclos in the denouement. Madame de Tourvel's future is less tragic; instead of dying of a broken heart, she returns to her forgiving and understanding older husband.
Valmont was released to theaters in the United States on November 17, 1989 for a limited run.
Missing scenes on the Region 1 DVD
The Region 1 DVD released in 2002 by MGM is missing a short sequence after Valmont wakes up alone from his last night with Tourvel. In the sequence, Valmont takes flowers to Tourvel's home later the same day, but on arrival discovers that she is back with her husband. Unseen by either, he leaves the flowers on her bed before heading off to confront Merteuil. The sequence is included in the 2000 MGM VHS release, and is also in the high-definition transfer shown on MGM HD.
Valmont received mixed reviews, as it has a score of 54% on Rotten Tomatoes from 28 critics, and a Metacritic score of 55. The film was not as highly acclaimed as Dangerous Liaisons, which was released less than a year earlier.
In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave he film three and a half out of four stars. Comparing it to Dangerous Liaisons, which was based on the play rather than the novel, Ebert wrote that Valmont was a much different film than its predecessor. Where Dangerous Liaisons was "cerebral and claustrophobic, an exercise in sexual mindplay", Forman's version was "more physical" and the seductions more arousing.
In his review for Rolling Stone magazine, Peter Travers gave the film a mixed review. While observing that the film was "rapturously beautiful, enticing us into a lush, aristocratic world", he felt that there was "nothing funny in the sight of Merteuil's decking out Cécile like a whore, nothing sexy in Valmont's indifferent rape of Cécile, nothing heroic in Valmont's futile duel with Danceny". Travers concluded, "Overlong and marred by clashing accents and acting styles, Valmont lacks the wit and erotic charge of Dangerous Liaisons. But Forman's vision is, finally, more humane, more devastating."
In her review in The New York Times, film critic Janet Maslin observed that the film "contributes virtually nothing to the body of information surrounding Les Liaisons Dangereuses". Maslin's major complaint was that the film lacked the "bite" of its predecessor, trivialized its characters, and showed "a troubling lack of focus".
In her review in The Washington Post, Rita Kempley was equally unimpressed with Valmont, describing it as "sumptuous suds, a broadly played trivialization of de Laclos's 18th-century novel of boudoir intrigue". Kemply concluded:
With its callow cast and playful tone, there is nothing dangerous about Forman's variation on the novelist's schemes. It's a naughty costume dramedy in which the erotic conquests of bored libertines are transformed into children's kissing games.
- "Valmont (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 5, 2012.
- "Weekend Box Office: Murphy's 'Nights' Overtakes 'Talking'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 14, 2012.
- Valmont - DVD missing scenes. YouTube.
- CitizenCharlie (November 17, 1989). "Valmont". Metacritic. Retrieved July 5, 2012.
- Ebert, Roger (November 12, 1989). "Valmont". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
- Travers, Peter (November 17, 1989). "Valmont". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
- Maslin, Janet (November 17, 1989). "Review/Film; 'Valmont,' New Incarnation Of 'Liaisons Dangereuses'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
- Kempley, Rita (January 12, 1990). "Valmont". Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2014.