MARQUIS DE SADE
This version of the story was a Russian-shot production co-produced by Roger Cormans New Horizons company. (This incidentally makes Marquis de Sade the second venture into the de Sade biopic by Roger Corman, who was also involved in the 1969 De Sade in an uncredited capacity). Director Gwyneth Gibby previously worked for New Horizons as an editor and made her debut as a director here. Following Marquis de Sade, Gibby has made a handful of other productions for New Horizons, most being genre films, with the likes of Eruption (1997), The Phantom Eye (mini-series, 1999), Nightfall (2000) and Black Scorpion Returns (2001).
Roger Corman and New Horizons are more known for their prolific output of B-budget films than they are of historical epics. Marquis de Sade certainly starts well with the credits vying between a series of classical nude paintings and cuts to live-action footage of various models enacting the same poses. Unfortunately, Roger Cormans usual low-budget filmmaking quickly triumphs over any more artistically minded intent upon Gwyneth Gibbys part. The production did travel to Russia to shoot but 18th Century Paris and the sets are still conducted on a cramped budget. The role of de Sade is also miscast with Nick Mancuso, who takes the opportunity to act his head off with a wild-eyed and campy performance. (One amusing aspect is the art for the video cover, which one would swear tries to turn Nick Mancuso into a likeness of Gerard Depardieu).
On the plus side, this version tends to offer a reasonably realistic portrait of the Marquis de Sades character. Other film versions have been surprisingly sympathetic to de Sade De Sade painted him as a man gone a little astray, while both Marquis and Quills showed him as a misunderstood writer. This film by contrast shows a de Sade that at least approaches the character of historical portrait an uncontrolled hedonist who seemed to lack any impulse control and delighted in carnality and shocking conventional morality. Gwyneth Gibby does a fine job of portraying the debauchery of de Sades marriage. Like the image of Nick Mancuso kissing bride Irina Nizina with a wanton lasciviousness during the marriage ceremony. Or his languishing with whores while sitting in front of his bride and her mother. Youre humiliating your wife, his mother-in-law complains, to which Mancuso responds with an airily dismissive Shell get used to it. Regular Corman writer Craig J. Neviuss script takes the view that de Sades principal turn-on was cruelty and humiliation and even writes a startling sequence where de Sade orders his servants to rape his wife.
Alas the rest of the films portrait of the Marquis de Sade is often wildly inaccurate. The film has his novel 120 Days of Sodom published and cited as one of the works that led to his sentencing to The Bastille, whereas historically de Sade only wrote 120 Days of Sodom when he was imprisoned and never completed it, while the manuscript was stolen during the sacking of The Bastille, fell into the hands of a private collector and was not published until 1904, well over a century after de Sades death. The aspect about the character of Justine coming to de Sade in jail and taking dictation is a fiction as Quills accurately depicted, de Sade had the maid Madeline le Clerc smuggle his manuscripts out to a publisher. Most of all, the part about de Sade being framed for a murder is an entire fiction de Sade was much more mundanely convicted for sodomy and the use of a non-lethal aphrodisiac in his first two arrests and upon the last occasion for his writings lampooning Napoleon. Furthermore, he had been moved out of The Bastille prior to its storming during the French Revolution although the film does amusingly suggest that the French Revolution was caused by a woman who was enamoured by de Sade and trying to stop him from being guillotined.
There is absolutely no historical basis for this films story about de Sade being convicted of a murder that he supposedly described in one of his books, nor any basis about claiming that he escaped from The Bastille to freedom (he was in actuality released the following year in an amnesty on prisoners in the aftermath of The Revolution, although was reimprisoned several years later). It is true that de Sade wrote two books Justine (1791) and Juliette (1797-1801), although the characters described therein bear little resemblance to the two counterparts here. Neither of these books describes Juliette being murdered as the film claims. Furthermore, both of these books were published after the Marquis de Sade was released from The Bastille so could hardly have been the cause of his being imprisoned there in the first place.
The most disappointing part of the film is its second half, which moves from an interesting depiction of de Sades debaucheries to incongruously become a mystery about finding the abducted sister. The end of the film improbably reveals that the missing Juliette has been abducted by a conspiracy of the respectable establishment figures that we encounter throughout. The script even more ludicrously then has de Sade arrive to expose them and save Juliette from their cruelties. The problem the film has is that, in having established de Sade as a debauched and vile figure throughout, it then unconvincingly turns him around to become the hero of the day and moreover a character that has the moral high ground over the people torturing Juliette. The film seems to want us to draw a distinction between de Sades debaucheries, sadistic cruelties and humiliations, which it asks us to see as being innocent, and the establishment figures debaucheries, sadistic cruelties and humiliations, which it asks us to see as being nasty and irredeemable because they hide behind a mask of social hypocrisy. It is a case of having your moral cake and trying to eat it too, one cannot help but feel.