As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, I’ve tried to read 120 Days of Sodom and failed. Let’s just say the cinematic masterpiece about the two young ladies and their beverage receptacle wouldn’t have impressed the subject of the film featured in today’s review.
The Marquis de Sade was fascinated with faecal matter is what I’m trying to say. Don’t get your hopes up for a review of Salo.
But I will get ahead of myself.
Quills tells the (highly inaccurate story) of de Sade’s time at a lunatic asylum where he continues to write smut* [I’ll mark the inaccuracies in this plot synopsis with asterisks] that is smuggled out by a laundry maid*(Kate Winslet).
The writing of the smut has been ordered by the Abbe of the asylum (Joaquin Phoenix) as a way to purge these evil thoughts. Yeah, okay. And the more you swear the less you’ll want to, because eventually you’ll run out of swear words. People are only allotted a certain number of filthy thoughts, right?
One of de Sade’s most infamous writings, Justine, is published in this way* and everyone is just scandalised and no one runs out and buys it in enormous hordes.
Ever the level-headed ruler, Emperor Napoleon orders de Sade to be killed. Instead, an advisor talks him round to visiting upon him a fate worse than death sending in Michael Caine. As Dr Royer-Collard*. Dr Royard-Collard is on the cutting edge of psychology, nay, a visionary. Mostly meaning he tried to torture the insanity out of people. This was the 1800s, after all.
The doctor, aside from his ‘begone, foul demon!’ approach to mental illness, also has a penchant for quite young women and has chosen for his bride-to-be an orphan from a convent in Paris. He swings by and plucks her up to take to Charenton (the asylum) for a tasty snack.
They are wed posthaste and he shows her the ways of doing her wifely duty. Charming.
As will happen, the marriage becomes the fodder of gossip, which makes its way back to de Sade, who writes a play about it.* Which is performed for the doctor and his wife. This goes over a treat.
Dr Royer-Collard, sticking to his torture-is-the-best-cure policy of treatment sets out to inflict the worst torment imaginable for his newest patient by removing all pens, ink and paper from his cell.
De Sade gets much more creative than I ever would have done and then things go to a really gross, hard limit sort of place.*
The cast is excellent. So are the writing, direction, costumes, sets, etc. It has all enough historical inaccuracies to keep a de Sade scholar foaming at the mouth for hours, so it should appeal to masochists beautifully, which is fitting in its way. (If you’re a sadist and know a de Sade scholar, invite them over, pop some popcorn and enjoy the show! Remember—always get consent first.)
It’s funny at times and definitely has its moments of drama. There are a few moments that are a little stomach-churning. Like de Sade himself.
It’s worth the watch. 5/5