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 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 the 18th century, 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. Volanges confides in Merteuil that the arranged marriage required that Cécile 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 Cécile 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 in Rouen on business. Merteuil later mocks Valmont for his futile 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 Cécile's 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 then convinces her cousin to allow Cécile to join her in the country while helping Cécile write secret love letters to Danceny. Soon after, Merteuil and Cécile join Valmont at his aunt's country estate where Valmont flirts playfully with the innocent young girl. When Merteuil suggests that Valmont help Cécile write a love letter to Danceny, Valmont agrees and ends up taking Cécile's virginity. When Cécile confides in Merteuil about her experience with Valmont, Merteuil encourages the girl 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 says she has written her husband about her new love. She then 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 initially refuses to honor her wager, and then offers herself in the wrong way, Valmont leaves in anger. He goes to Cécile 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 Cécile's letter, he visits Merteuil and threatens her, demanding she send a letter to Cécile recommending that she call off her marriage. When Valmont arrives, he discovers that Merteuil has already seduced Danceny and revealed that Valmont took Cécile's virginity.
The next day, Danceny challenges Valmont to a duel set in the morning. That evening, Valmont prepares for the duel by drinking himself into a drunken stupor. The next morning, Valmont arrives at the duel hung over and Danceny refuses to duel him in his condition. Refusing to apologize to Danceny for his actions, he charges toward the young man with his sword drawn and is slain after a brief exchange. At the funeral, Cécile reveals to Valmont's aunt that she believes she is carrying her (the aunt's) dead nephew's child. The elderly aunt is overjoyed by the news. Cécile 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 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 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 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 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.
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