by Philip Kaufman

Reviews Online

New York Times
'Quills': Torturing Everybody, and Loving It - by Elvis Mitchell

Review by Glenn Kenny

Boston Phenix

Review by Fred Thom

Neil Schaeffer

Hollywood Bitch Slap

The Guardian

a bunch of revs from a bunch of critics

The Philadelphia Inquirer
'Quills' takes the sadism out of Sade - by Carlin Romano

Cranky Critic

Rotten Tomatoes
a bunch of revs from a bunch of critics

Review by Stephanie Zacharek

The Boston Globe
'Quills' puts de Sade on the front burner and, oh, what a Rush it is - by Jay Carr

Le Devoir
Quills: insondable Sade - by Odile Tremblay

Christian Answers
Views and opinions by Christian moviegoers

Village Voice
Review2 by J. Hoberman

Official 'Quills' Site

Quills - The Credits

Director: Philip Kaufman.
Screenplay: Doug Wright.
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Billie Whitelaw.
Photography: Rogier Stoffers.
Music: Stephen Warbeck.

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Geoffrey Rush in a scene from the movie

Setting the tone under the Terror, with Madame Guillotine at full speed under the windows of the Picpus clinic, Quills seems to pick up where Sade left off, were it not that the two movies premiered in the theaters basically at the same time, albeit in two different continents. Making some amends for the fact that the American movie pre-existed the French movie in theatrical form on Broadway, which had been gathering enough success to convince director Philip Kaufman to transfer it to the wide screen, questions whether Sade had merely tried to pose a French answer to a growing phenomenon would be pointless. We would have to go back to 1980 when veteran filmmaker Alain Resnais ventilated the idea for a movie on the life of the Divine Marquis (it is our loss that his project did not materialize).

Like its French counterpart, Quills tries to dabble into something greater than the life of Sade, making an issue of his constant fight for freedom of expression; and, in fact, the authors do much to hammer in the concept on a dead nail. Proust said that books with "a message" were like gifts with the price tag still tacked on, meaning they defeat their own purpose (or as Kit Reed stated: "If you want to send a message, call Western Union."), but this applies to movies as well. Something can be said for Sade's own fight against censorship and repression, but to make this the central point of his existence (or his meaning to us today) would seem to be a bit reductive, at best. However, whereas Jacquot's film tried to "show and tell" Sadean philosophy and works in a sort of imaginative anthology, distorting facts as much as credibility would have allowed, Quills fails to tell us anything more about the Marquis or his kind of work beyond the "freedom of expression" issue, stretching historical truth to such an extent that we cannot even enjoy the allegory as such.

True, Sade particularly enjoyed defying authorities and playing "cat and mouse" with them (and we never really know who is the cat and who is the mouse!). However, at Charenton he did enjoy much freedom and laxity, as Dr. Royer-Collard amply testified in his report to the Emperor. Sade was able to live with his mistress Constance Quinet (the very same that enchanted us in Sade) and her son, and generally speaking all inmates were able to move about the place to their pleasure. But Kaufman has to make the whole story much more grand-guignolesque in order to please American audiences and toss them a chunk of fresh meat (scenes of necrophilia, tortures, violence and guts) just to say "you don't have to like or agree with this monster in order to follow suit as to the principle".

Quite aside from all the distortions and misinterpretations, which I shall not even attempt at going deeper into, there is one aspect of the movie which much bothered me. It would undoubtedly please censors of all ages linking texts and crimes in a narrow and self-fulfilling cause-and-effect relationship, just like the oral chain which takes Sade's word from his cell to Madeleine's quill and right into her death. The defense within the movie is, for all intents and purposes, futile and unconvincing, whereas, one would think, Hollywood would have much at stake to defend its own big stack of violence and rapes on reels to convince any moralist that it is not responsible for real violence on the streets. The argument purported by the moralist is quite banal: when certain violent acts are put into the head of weak and demented people, just like in Quills, it can transform into real crime. To this Madeleine opposes her personal, virginal truth: crime on paper helps her preserve her purity in real life; such a shame that she has to lose her argument by paying with her own life.

A little icing on the cake: the official web site. As if we hadn't already witnessed the authors' pretentious trivialization of the subject, the info-hungry web visitor who eagerly enters the official web site expecting followups, information, related literature, maybe, just like in the Sade site, is invited to press the button to "fully experience" the web event. Crap. Minutes of net time spent (wasted) on inane flash movies reproducing in fancy and self-indulgent fashion quotes from the movie or the writings of the Marquis. No credits, no background information, no bibliography, no history, not to mention forum, email or any other stuff we've got acquainted with in the world wide web. Sheer masturbatory show-off of graphical know-how. Thumbs down for me on this one.


"Now Jesus would not have liked de Sade's raving lust, but one senses that Christ would have identified with the man, just as he did with Mary Magdelene. However, St. Paul surely would have condemned this filthy man and his filthy mind. As such, so must I."
-- Cad Wallander (Christian moviegoers)

"Simplistic, inaccurate, disgusting. Does historical context matter to anyone?"
-- "lazy" (Hollywood Bitch Slap)
"Quills is complicated and thought-provoking without ever giving an easy answer. And for that the film is worth watching. But these characters' outrageous, in-your-face vulgarity is a lot to sit through to get there. On the other hand, if Kaufman had played it straight, it would be virtually unbearable."
-- Rich Cline (Hollywood Bitch Slap)

"Ridiculous enough to be hilarious, but this didn't prevent me from thoroughly enjoying Philip Kaufman's silly romp."
-- Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader)

"Even Sade's principles can't whip Hollywood's need for emotional plot turns and an edifying (if not happy) ending."
-- Carlin Romano (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

"I'm inclined to agree with my colleague Michael Musto, who suggested that the reason various characters have their tongues ripped out is to prevent the actors from chewing away the scenery."
-- J. Hoberman (Village Voice)


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