Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Miloš Forman|
|Based on||Les Liaisons dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos|
|Music by||Christopher Palmer|
|Distributed by||Orion Pictures|
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 (Merteuil) who bets her ex-lover (Valmont) that he cannot corrupt a recently married honorable woman (Tourvel). During the process of seducing the married woman, Valmont ends up falling in love with her. Earlier, Merteuil learns her secret lover (Gercourt) has discarded her and is about to marry her cousin’s daughter- a virginal 15 year old Cécile. As revenge, the jilted Merteuil employs Valmont (during his pursuit of Tourvel) to seduce Cécile before her marriage to Gercourt.
In 18th 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 Cécile (Fairuza Balk) has been betrothed to a middle-age man named Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones), Merteuil's own secret lover. The arranged marriage required that Cécile be raised in a convent to ensure her chastity. Unaware that Merteuil is Gercourt's lover, Volanges reveals that according to Gercourt, he is having trouble breaking off relations with his "former" mistress who is mentally unbalanced. Angered over the hypocrisy of Gercourt's insistence on a virgin bride while keeping a lover of his own, his concealment of his upcoming marriage, and his slight of her character, Merteuil plans revenge.
Merteuil approaches her former lover, the notorious womanizer Vicomte de Valmont (Colin Firth), and proposes that he take Cécile's virginity before her wedding night to humiliate Gercourt. Valmont is not interested in seducing a child, whom he claims would be no challenge, but is pursuing Madame de Tourvel (Meg Tilly), a married woman staying at the estate of Madame de Rosemonde, Valmont's elderly aunt. Tourvel, well-known for her virtue, been warned of Valmont's debauchery and deliberately avoids him. Merteuil makes Valmont 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 Cécile's teenage music teacher, Danceny (Henry Thomas), has been writing love letters to Cécile, Merteuil gains the confidence of the young girl who confesses she loves Danceny. Merteuil attempts to create opportunities for the two young lovers to consummate their love, but Cécile is too innocent and Danceny too honorable to take advantage. Frustrated, Merteuil takes Cécile on holiday to Madame de Rosemonde's country estate, where Valmont had gone to pursue Tourvel. Valmont flirts playfully with the young girl, who is overwhelmed by his attention. When Merteuil suggests that Valmont help Cécile write to Danceny, Valmont goes to Cécile's room to help her write a passionate letter and ends up taking her virginity. Afterwards, a guilt-wracked Cécile runs to Merteuil for comfort, believing that neither her future husband nor Danceny will want her now. Merteuil encourages the girl to marry Gercourt and keep Danceny as her lover.
When Tourvel feels her defenses weakening against Valmont, she flees to the city to escape temptation. Valmont rides to her residence and is there when she arrives. Unable to resist, Tourvel finally makes love with him. In the morning, Tourvel writes to her husband about her new lover, then leaves for the market to prepare a meal. When she returns, Valmont has already left to collect his "prize" from Merteuil.
Valmont arrives at Merteuil's residence, where Merteuil indifferently spreads herself on the bed and waits for Valmont to get on with it, causing Valmont to storm out. As revenge, he goes to Cécile and convinces her to write Danceny a letter explaining that Merteuil was behind the plan to cast Danceny as Cécile's lover. Tourvel later comes to Valmont and spends the night, leaving before he wakes the next morning. Her loss causes Valmont to realize he truly cared for her.
Valmont returns to Merteuil, but rather than insisting she keep her bargain, he proposes marriage, saying they would be better off working together than against one another. Merteuil sadly reminds him that they have already been married once, but that they always end up betraying one another. Merteuil invites Valmont to her bedroom, where Danceny is in her bed; he had come to threaten Merteuil, but she seduced him and told him everything. Valmont leaves in a fury and goes to Cécile, suggesting that they escape to the city where Cécile will be free to love whom she chooses. Instead, Cécile reveals that she has confessed everything to her mother, who orders Valmont from the house.
The next day, Danceny challenges Valmont to a duel to avenge Cécile's honor. Valmont prepares for the duel by drinking himself into a stupor and arrives hung over. The honorable Danceny refuses to duel him in his condition and is willing to accept an apology. Instead, Valmont charges Danceny with sword drawn, forcing Danceny to kill him in self-defense.
Valmont's funeral is filled with his former lovers, including Merteuil, who finds herself devastated at the loss of her best friend and oldest rival. Cécile reveals to Madame de Rosemonde that she (Cécile) is carrying Valmont's child; Rosemonde is overjoyed by the news. Cécile and Gercourt are soon married in a grand ceremony in the presence of the king, with Danceny surrounded by a pack of eligible young women and Merteuil looking on, alone.
Some time later, Madame de Tourvel lovingly places a rose on Valmont's tomb before returning to her waiting husband.
- Colin Firth as Valmont
- Annette Bening as Merteuil
- Meg Tilly as Madame de Tourvel
- Fairuza Balk as Cécile 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
Differences from the novel
The plot of Valmont differs significantly from Laclos's novel. In the novel, Cécile miscarries Valmont's child, and at the end retires to a convent; in Valmont she is pregnant at her wedding. In the novel, letters between Valmont and Merteuil are exposed, and Merteuil is publicly ridiculed and humiliated; in Valmont, the letters are not mentioned, and Merteuil has no downfall except in the eyes of Cécile 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 55% on Rotten Tomatoes from 29 critics, and a Metacritic score of 55 from 14 critics. 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 the 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, 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.
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