directed by Milos Forman
(United Artists, 1989)

The story behind Valmont is a real heartbreaker. Like Dangerous Liaisons, it was based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos. It was filmed at the same time as Dangerous Liaisons but held back in order to not compete. One year later, it was released, but because the other film had cast leading stars, Valmont received little attention and did poorly. Had this movie been released first, the opposite would likely have been true.

I advise all viewers to watch both movies. It is amazing how different writers interpreted the book. I had thought Dangerous Liaisons was ideal and could not be improved upon. However, I actually preferred Valmont. Colin Firth was a much better Valmont; it is easier to picture him as this type of freewheeling lover that views a woman as nothing more than a conquest to be rated on the level of difficulty to bed.

If you are not familiar with the plot, let me introduce you to the basics. Madame de Merteuil (Annette Bening) has been dumped by her lover, who plans to marry the young, innocent virgin, Cecile (Fairuza Balk). Madame de Merteuil decides to get even by having her former lover, Valmont, bed Cecile and ruin her innocence. But Cecile is falling in love with her music teacher and Valmont is becoming obsessed with his latest conquest, the Lady Tourvel (Meg Tilly). So de Merteuil makes a bet with Valmont. If he beds Cecile, he gets de Merteuil as well, but if he fails, he must go live in a monastery. The resulting game of musical beds and bouncing emotions will keep you on the edge of your seat.

This version took a lighter, more comical approach to the subject, with Valmont playing the part of the clown to win his conquest. You have to see the scene where he falls out of the boat and pretends to be drowning just to get the "target" to admit that she does care if he lives or dies. Even funnier is the fact that his poor servant bails into the water to save him, but cannot swim himself. I much preferred this comedic approach to the serious, heavy version. The character Valmont sees sex as a game, so it follows that he would take a light-hearted approach.

The Madame de Merteuil is quite different in this version as well. She is not as cold and ruthless -- as incapable of love -- as Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons. While that movie addressed the reasons in her past that created her hardness toward men, this one has no need to do so. She is a softer, more feminine character here and, for this take on de Merteuil, Bening is ideal. She is so sweet, feminine and beautiful that you would never suspect her of such evil schemes. She hides her mean streak with an air of innocence while dripping sexuality.

Cecile is also different in this version, unlike the whining child portrayed by Uma Thurman. She is more what you would expect of a girl that is soon to be married. She is sweeter and easier to like, and Balk carried off the part to perfection!

Overall, I liked this version much better than the other. It is a movie that I will watch again and again. There are so many scenes that will leave you laughing, such as the hunting dogs or the dinner conversation. It is also guaranteed that Fabia Drake will touch your heart as Madame de Rosemonde. See this one today. You will be glad you did!

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 6 April 2003

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