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QUILLS

No question about it, Geoffrey Rush is a truly great actor who deserves all the accolades that are heaped upon him. Whether he is appearing in films like SHINE and SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE where he can show off his thespian prowess, or in films like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL where he is having fun hamming it up, Rush is always worth watching. As The Marquis de Sade in QUILLS ($30), Rush proves, yet again, that he is a cinematic force to be reckoned with. While Rush's performance was rightfully recognized by the Motion Picture Academy in the form of a nomination, he lost out to an actor appearing in a far more commercial film.

QUILLS is based upon the play by Doug Wright, which combines fact and fiction in its tale about one of the 18th Century's most notorious figures. Set in the later years of his life, we find The Marquis de Sade locked up in an insane asylum, instead of an actual prison, due to the violent and sexually charged nature of his writings. After de Sade's latest tale of debauchery is published, Napoleon sends Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine) to oversee the Charenton asylum, which is currently being run by Abbe Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix), a priest whose progressive techniques for treating the insane go against the tried and true methods of abuse and torture. With Royer-Collard now looking over everyone's shoulder, de Sade's inventiveness is put to the test, as he is forced to find new ways for his chambermaid Madeleine (Kate Winslet) to smuggle his writings out of the asylum. However, the situation comes to a head when de Sade's writings affect Royer-Collard's perverse marriage to Simone (Amelia Warner), who is best described as a child bride.

This brief plot summary doesn't do justice to a film such as QUILLS; there is subtext in the film, beyond anything that I have alluded to. On top of that, QUILLS is probably one of the most superbly acted film of last year- there isn't a bad performance to be found anywhere. Rush brings The Marquis de Sade to vivid life in an acting tour de force. Kate Winslet's unquestionable beauty never gets in the way of a totally captivating performance. Joaquin Phoenix is far better portraying an 18th Century priest QUILLS than he was in the role that garnered him a Best Supporting Oscar nomination for 2000. Michael Caine is simply marvelous as the film's requisite antagonist, but then again, I expect nothing less from Caine. The cast of QUILLS also features Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Malahide, Jane Menelaus, Stephen Moyer, Tony Pritchard, Michael Jenn, Danny Babington, George Yiasoumi, Stephen Marcus and Elizabeth Berrington.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made QUILLS available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for playback on 16:9 displays. Although a brand new film, director Philip Kaufman and cinematographer Rogier Stoffers decided on a somewhat stylized look for QUILLS that keep it from being reference material. Now don't get me wrong, Fox has provided QUILLS with an excellent transfer that represents the intentions of the filmmakers. Generally, the image is very nice looking, as well as offering up a good level of detail. Much of the film has a gauzy soft focus look that gives QUILLS something of a romanticized look. In addition, the photography deploys a naturalistic lighting scheme, which causes the darker interiors to appear less defined than sequences with better sources of light. Colors are very subdued and they take on a very neutral appearance. Flesh tones lack the modern sensibilities of appearing exceedingly healthy, so I would imagine their pallor being historically accurate. Blacks are deep, although the film's lighting does muddy up the level of shadow detail in places. Despite this, the image does maintain a good sense of depth. Clean dual layer authoring precludes noticeable digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has a very good mix that is appropriate to the material. Since QUILLS originated as a stage drama, it is safe to say that the film is very much a dialogue driven enterprise. Most of the time, sound effects are used discretely and in a very naturalistic manner. However, there are key sequences in which the sounds emanating from the surround channels seem to be representative of the psychological unrest affecting the characters. Dialogue is completely intelligible and the actors' voices resonate quite nicely on the soundtrack. The bass channel has a couple of showy moments, but otherwise exists to lend credibility to the sound effects. Stephen Warbeck's score is nicely integrated into them mix and is reproduced with very good musical fidelity. English and French Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound all serve to dress up the interactive menus. Through the menu system, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a nice complement of supplements. Writer Doug Wright provides a running audio commentary, which I found to be very interesting, since it documents not only the production of the film, but also where QUILLS deviates from history. Three featurettes are also contained on the DVD; each of them runs several minutes. The first is entitled Marquis on the Marquee and is a pretty basic featurette consists primarily of interviews with the talent involved in the production. Second is Creating Charenton, which takes a look at the production design, more specifically, the film's primary location. Third, Dressing the Part focuses on the movie’s period costumes. Also included on the DVD is a Fact & Film section that separates the film's story from the historic Marquis de Sade. A theatrical trailer, a TV spot, plus a music promo close out the supplements.

QUILLS is an intelligent and superbly acted film that deserves to be seen on DVD, if one missed seeing it theatrically. Of course, this motion picture isn't going to appeal to everyone, but if the subject matter piques your curiosity, don't hesitate to pick up a copy of QUILLS.

 
QUILLS 


Quills

ENHANCED FOR 16:9 TELEVISIONS 


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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