Sade (review)

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In 1794, at the height of France’s Reign of Terror, aristocrats are being herded into genteel prisons to await the guillotine. Into this bizarre environment, simultaneously resortlike, what with the strolling on the lawn and the courtly manners, and miserable, what with the mass-grave stench of decomposing patricians wafting up from what used to be the garden, comes the Marquis de Sade. No noble, he, but as a libertine and an atheist, he’s a threat to Robespierre’s prudish, godfearing regime… and to the sensibilities of many of his fellow prisoners. As Sade, acclaimed actor Daniel Auteuil (who won a Lumiere, the French Oscar, for his performance here) is enticingly perilous, not monstrous but dangerously charismatic not only to the viewer — we haven’t seen Sade portrayed in so provocative and sympathetic a manner before — but also to young, virginal Emilie (sweet and subtle Isild Le Besco, who garnered the film’s other Lumiere). He puts a name to the incoherent longing in which she’s wallowing in the face of death, and their pas de deux — one of the mind as much as of the body — makes for a treacherously seductive and highly disturbing film. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but the adventurous will find an intriguing portrait of a man who remains, two centuries later, something of an intellectual exile. Included on the disc is an interview with director Benoit Jacquot.

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