Most Resonant Books: “Les Liaisons dangereuses” by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

“When one woman strikes at the heart of another, she seldom misses, and the wound is invariably fatal.”

-Choderlos de Laclos

I walked past a movie poster in the cinema when I was around ten years old and wondered what the story behind it was. I was definitely too young to see the film, but the poster just caught my interest as I was heading towards my screen. It was the 1999 film poster for “Cruel Intentions”. I just had to know what happened between the three of them, why they were looking away, or looking a certain way, or straight into the camera. Their facial expressions, postures and triangular constellation interested me. What was going on?

I saw the film in my teens of course and at that point considered the ending one of the best ones in pop cinema history. It is quite a challenge to adapt an 18th century French epistolary novel and set it in 1990s New York. It certainly blew some fresh air into Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ old classic “Les Liaisons dangereuses” and ascertained the ongoing relevance of its themes, maybe now more than ever in 2020 with revenge porn, human trafficking, sexualisation, shaming, shunning, sexploitation, money and abuse, sex and power, toxic relationships, narcissism and rape culture. There is still a lot to it, the jaded, bored, numb, corrupt and pretentiously holier-than-though aristocracy/bourgeoisie/prime capitalism beneficiaries stripped of humane values, morality and ideals messing with lives of those supposedly beneath them who still have a soul to lose. Of course it’s not that black and white but it still hits a modern-day nerve. Love and a growing conscience arise too late between the lines and almost all the protagonists steer straight into their own merciless downfall, lives are destroyed. Superficiality killed substantiality.

I wanted to include “Les Liaisons dangereuses” in my postgraduate thesis, but I needed to trim the amount of works I chose to compare with each other. Unfortunately, I had to cut out Laclos’ novel after I had done all my research on it and collected stills from Forman’s 1989 version “Valmont” and Frears’ 1988 adaptation “Dangerous Liaisons”. It is quite something for Colin Firth’s artistic CV to have embodied Laclos’ Vicomte de Valmont and Austen’s Mr. Darcy. What a leap. My personal favourite Marquise de Merteuil / Vicomte de Valmont powerhouse is definitely Glenn Close and John Malkovich except for Annette Bening’s and Colin Firth’s volatile bathtub scene. But Glenn Close’s taking-her-make-up-off scene and society-opera-balcony scene are pure gold. Was it all really “beyond (their) control”?


“The Pretty Maid” by Léon François Comerre (1850-1916)

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