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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Quills

Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet
Director: Phillip Kaufman
Rated: R
RunTime: 127 Minutes
Release Date: December 2000
Genres: Drama, Erotica

*Also starring: Michael Caine, Joaquin Phoenix, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Malahide, Amelia Warner, Elizabeth Berrington, Stephen Marcus, Ron Cook

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

"It's not even a proper novel," Father Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) complains to the Marquis de Sade (Geoffrey Rush) about his book, "Justine." "It's an encyclopedia of perversion!" The priest is the head of the mental institution in which the Marquis is incarcerated in a rather sumptuously furnished cell. "Justine" was written and smuggled out against Father Coulmier's express orders.

In Philip Kaufman's QUILLS, which is fascinating and repelling at the same time, Kate Winslet plays Madeleine, the washer woman who smuggles out the Marquis's scandalous prose. At the price of one kiss per page, she gets to read the words, which are so hot that they almost burn the page. (Actually, yesterday's perversions are likely to seem silly, tame and obtuse today, as it relies on cute euphemisms like "Venus mound.") In the movie, people profess shock but read his works as fast as they can. "That's terrible, too, too terrible," Madeleine's blind mother claims as she is read the bawdy text. But when her daughter pauses, the mother exclaims, "Well, go on!"

The real sadist of the story isn't the infamous Marquis, but his new doctor, Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), whom the emperor sends to oversee Father Coulmier. The doctor believes that it is possible to torture patients to sanity. There is nothing like being strapped into a chair and held upside down under water to restore one's senses. The good doctor has a new, young wife, Simone (Amelia Warner), whom he keeps caged like a bird. With bars on her windows and locks on the outside of her bedroom door, she is kept ready to be ravished at will by her husband without any worry that she will escape. Or at least that's the theory.

The subject of the story, which takes many unexpected approaches, is about obsessions. The doctor's number one desire turns out to be control. More surprising is that what truly turns on the Marquis isn't so much sex or violence, but the act of writing. Of course, all he wants to write about is sex and violence. In a telling scene after his writing quills and ink have been confiscated, he slices up his fingers and uses fingernails and blood as substitutes. A man who knows no bounds, he turns to his own feces as an ink substitute when that's all he has left.

Father Coulmier, who tries to understand and help the seriously deranged but brilliant Marquis, argues with the doctor that the Marquis's writings are "a purgative for the toxins in his mind." Needless to say, the doctor doesn't buy this theory, although he sees no problem in personally profiting from his prisoner's pen.

"How can we know who is truly good, and who is evil?" Madeleine asks Father Coulmier, who replies, "We can't." QUILLS illustrates this vividly. No matter how much the Marquis repulses us, we find ourselves drawn to him when those more wicked than he abuse him. Rush makes him such an eminently likeable rogue that we can't help but find ourselves secretly rooting for him no matter how despicable he becomes. QUILLS is a fascinating and sometimes bizarre motion picture. Perhaps its biggest surprise, however, is how relatively tame it is. Think of it as a ribald ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST with a script that it is correctly rated R and not NC-17. An intriguing movie, it leaves you with a lot to ponder.

QUILLS runs 2:03. It is rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, violence and language and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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