ⓘ Valmont (film)


ⓘ Valmont (film)

Valmont is a 1989 French-American drama film directed by Milos Forman and starring Colin Firth, Annette Bening, and Meg Tilly. Based on the 1782 French novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, and adapted for the screen by Jean-Claude Carriere, the film is about a scheming widow who bets her ex-lover that he cannot corrupt a recently married honorable woman. During the process of seducing the married woman, Valmont ends up falling in love with her. Earlier, Merteuil learns her secret lover has discarded her and is about to marry her cousin’s daughter- a virginal 15 year old Cecile. As revenge, the jilted Merteuil employs Valmont to seduce Cecile before her marriage to Gercourt.

Valmont received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design Theodor Pistek.


1. Plot

In 18th century France, the Marquise de Merteuil Annette Bening, a beautiful wealthy widow, learns from her cousin Madame de Volanges Sian Phillips that Volanges 15-year-old daughter Cecile Fairuza Balk has been betrothed to a middle-age man named Gercourt Jeffrey Jones, Merteuils own secret lover. The arranged marriage required that Cecile be raised in a convent to ensure her chastity. Unaware that Merteuil is Gercourts lover, Volanges reveals that according to Gercourt, he is having trouble breaking off relations with his "former" mistress who is mentally unbalanced. Angered over the hypocrisy of Gercourts insistence on a virgin bride while keeping a lover of his own, his concealment of his upcoming marriage, and his slight of her character, Merteuil plans revenge.

Merteuil approaches her former lover, the notorious womanizer Vicomte de Valmont Colin Firth, and proposes that he take Ceciles virginity before her wedding night to humiliate Gercourt. Valmont is not interested in seducing a child, whom he claims would be no challenge, but is pursuing Madame de Tourvel Meg Tilly, a married woman staying at the estate of Madame de Rosemonde, Valmonts elderly aunt. Tourvel, well-known for her virtue, had been warned of Valmonts debauchery and deliberately avoids him. Merteuil makes Valmont a wager: if Valmont succeeds in bedding Madame de Tourvel, he may also bed Merteuil; if he fails, he must consign himself to a monastery.

After learning that Ceciles teenage music teacher, Danceny Henry Thomas, has been writing love letters to Cecile, Merteuil gains the confidence of the young girl who confesses she loves Danceny. Merteuil attempts to create opportunities for the two young lovers to consummate their love, but Cecile is too innocent and Danceny too honorable to take advantage. Frustrated, Merteuil takes Cecile on holiday to Madame de Rosemondes country estate, where Valmont had gone to pursue Tourvel. Valmont flirts playfully with the young girl, who is overwhelmed by his attention. When Merteuil suggests that Valmont help Cecile write to Danceny, Valmont goes to Ceciles room to help her write a passionate letter and ends up taking her virginity. Afterwards, a guilt-wracked Cecile runs to Merteuil for comfort, believing that neither her future husband nor Danceny will want her now. Merteuil encourages the girl to marry Gercourt and keep Danceny as her lover.

When Tourvel feels her defenses weakening against Valmont, she flees to the city to escape temptation. Valmont rides to her residence and is there when she arrives. Unable to resist, Tourvel finally makes love with him. In the morning, Tourvel writes to her husband about her new lover, then leaves for the market to prepare a meal. When she returns, Valmont has already left to collect his "prize" from Merteuil.

Valmont arrives at Merteuils residence, where Merteuil indifferently spreads herself on the bed and waits for Valmont to get on with it, causing Valmont to storm out. As revenge, he goes to Cecile and convinces her to write Danceny a letter explaining that Merteuil was behind the plan to cast Danceny as Ceciles lover. Tourvel later comes to Valmont and spends the night, leaving before he wakes the next morning. Her loss causes Valmont to realize he truly cared for her.

Valmont returns to Merteuil, but rather than insisting she keep her bargain, he proposes marriage, saying they would be better off working together than against one another. Merteuil sadly reminds him that they have already been married once, but that they always end up betraying one another. Merteuil invites Valmont to her bedroom, where Danceny is in her bed; he had come to threaten Merteuil, but she seduced him and told him everything. Valmont leaves in a fury and goes to Cecile, suggesting that they escape to the city where Cecile will be free to love whom she chooses. Instead, Cecile reveals that she has confessed everything to her mother, who orders Valmont from the house.

The next day, Danceny challenges Valmont to a duel to avenge Ceciles honor. Valmont prepares for the duel by drinking himself into a stupor and arrives hung over. The honorable Danceny refuses to duel him in his condition and is willing to accept an apology. Instead, Valmont charges Danceny with sword drawn, forcing Danceny to kill him in self-defense.

Valmonts funeral is filled with his former lovers, including Merteuil, who finds herself devastated at the loss of her best friend and oldest rival. Cecile reveals to Madame de Rosemonde that she Cecile is carrying Valmonts child; Rosemonde is overjoyed by the news. Cecile and Gercourt are soon married in a grand ceremony in the presence of the king, with Danceny surrounded by a pack of eligible young women and Merteuil looking on, alone.

Some time later, Madame de Tourvel lovingly places a rose on Valmonts tomb before returning to her waiting husband.


2. Cast

  • Ronald Lacey as Jose
  • Isla Blair as Baroness
  • Vincent Schiavelli as Jean
  • Meg Tilly as Madame de Tourvel
  • Fairuza Balk as Cecile de Volanges
  • Sian Phillips as Madame de Volanges
  • Sandrine Dumas as Martine
  • T. P. McKenna as Baron
  • Ian McNeice as Azolan
  • Jeffrey Jones as Gercourt
  • Annette Bening as Merteuil
  • Fabia Drake as Madame de Rosemonde
  • Henry Thomas as Danceny
  • Colin Firth as Valmont
  • Aleta Mitchell as Victoire

3. Production

Differences from the novel

The plot of Valmont differs significantly from Lacloss novel. In the novel, Cecile miscarries Valmonts child, and at the end retires to a convent; in Valmont she is pregnant at her wedding. In the novel, letters between Valmont and Merteuil are exposed, and Merteuil is publicly ridiculed and humiliated; in Valmont, the letters are not mentioned, and Merteuil has no downfall except in the eyes of Cecile and her mother. She also does not suffer from the physical disfigurement described by Laclos in the denouement. Madame de Tourvels future is less tragic: instead of dying of a broken heart, she returns to her forgiving and understanding older husband.


4. Release

Theatrical release

Valmont was released to theaters in the United States on November 17, 1989, for a limited run.

Missing scenes on the Region 1 DVD

The Region 1 DVD released in 2002 by MGM is missing a short sequence after Valmont wakes up alone from his last night with Tourvel. In the sequence, Valmont takes flowers to Tourvels home later the same day, but on arrival discovers that she is back with her husband. Unseen by either, he leaves the flowers on her bed before heading off to confront Merteuil. The sequence is included in the 2000 MGM VHS release, and is also in the high-definition transfer shown on MGM HD.


5. Critical response

Valmont received mixed reviews, as it has a score of 55% on Rotten Tomatoes from 29 critics, and a Metacritic score of 55 from 14 critics. The film was not as highly acclaimed as Dangerous Liaisons, which was released less than a year earlier.

In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half out of four stars. Comparing it to Dangerous Liaisons, which was based on the play rather than the novel, Ebert wrote that Valmont was a much different film than its predecessor. Where Dangerous Liaisons was "cerebral and claustrophobic, an exercise in sexual mindplay", Formans version was "more physical" and the seductions more arousing.

In his review for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers gave the film a mixed review. While observing that the film was "rapturously beautiful, enticing us into a lush, aristocratic world", he felt that there was "nothing funny in the sight of Merteuils decking out Cecile like a whore, nothing sexy in Valmonts indifferent rape of Cecile, nothing heroic in Valmonts futile duel with Danceny." Travers concluded, "Overlong and marred by clashing accents and acting styles, Valmont lacks the wit and erotic charge of Dangerous Liaisons. But Formans vision is, finally, more humane, more devastating."

In her review in The New York Times, film critic Janet Maslin observed that the film "contributes virtually nothing to the body of information surrounding Les Liaisons Dangereuses." Maslins major complaint was that the film lacked the "bite" of its predecessor, trivialized its characters, and showed "a troubling lack of focus".

In her review in The Washington Post, Rita Kempley was equally unimpressed with Valmont, describing it as "sumptuous suds, a broadly played trivialization of de Lacloss 18th-century novel of boudoir intrigue". Kemply concluded:

With its callow cast and playful tone, there is nothing dangerous about Formans variation on the novelists schemes. Its a naughty costume dramedy in which the erotic conquests of bored libertines are transformed into childrens kissing games.

The film was selected for screening as part of the Cannes Classics section at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.

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