Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Les liaisons dangereuses

(France, 2003)

Believe it or not, this story, based on a novel by Choderlos de Laclos, written in 1782, has been filmed 10 times that I know of, and we’ve now seen 2 1/3 of them:

1. 1959, by Roger Vadim, with Jeanne Moreau.
2. 1978, Kiken na kankei, in Japanese.
3. 1980, French television.
4. 1980, Nebezpecne znamosti, Slovakian television.
5. 1988, *Dangerous Liaisons, directed by Stephen Frears, starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer.
6. 1990, *Valmont, directed by Milos Forman, starring Colin Firth, Annette Bening, and Meg Tilly.
7. 1994, Dangerous Liaisons, American television.
8. 1999, Cruel Intentions, with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Reese Witherspoon.
9. 2003, Scandal, or Untold Scandal, or Joseon namnyeo sangyeoljisa, Korean.
10. 2003, This one, *Les liaisons dangereuses, a mini-series for French television, with Catherine Deneuve, Rupert Everett, and Nasstasja Kinski.

The story seems to have universal appeal and fascination for directors. #1, #9, and #11 are modern-day; #9 in an American high school. #10 is set in 18th Century Korea. # 5 and #6 have an odd history.

Valmont was to be shot in historic locations, taking up a lot of time, and Forman was sure it would be cancelled, but for some reason the studio execs went ahead. Too bad.

Dangerous Liaisons was a masterpiece, up for Best Picture, Close and Malkovich were brilliant, the final scene was one of the most stunning I’ve ever seen in any movie.

Valmont was just … good.

Cruel Intentions is set among spoiled Park Avenue preppies. It begins well, then has to take a few unnatural contortions to make it sort of work in that milieu. It is suitably nasty, but in the end I was left feeling like I’d seen a bunch of very talented junior high school drama students putting on Death of a Salesman. You admire their spunk, but it’s probably doomed from the start.

So we were interested in the most recent French version. We rented the DVD and started watching. It seemed sort of … abrupt. I only vaguely remembered most of the plot details. Oh, well, I suppose since this one was listed at 200 minutes they had time to tell more of the story. And then after an hour… it ended. Roll credits.

Huh? I grabbed the DVD box and saw, in very small print, something I’d missed: Disc 3. We had watched the end, and didn’t know it.

I know it sounds dumb, but there it is. I had had some vague misgivings, but the fact is, the photography was so arty—almost every shot backlit, where there was any light at all—and the French dialogue so dense, it was hard to keep up with it in the first place. I decided I didn’t really care to rent the first two and watch more scenes set in dark rooms. You want to see it, rent Dangerous Liaisons, the 1988 version. It is brutal.