Sade | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Benoit Jacquot's 2000 feature about the 18th-century libertine and pornographer opened in France three months before Philip Kaufman's Quills hit theaters in the U.S., and it's superior in every way. Each film is partly fictionalized, using Sade's incarcerations to explore his ideas about personal freedom, and each presents a classically Sadean tale of a pure young woman tempted by forbidden passions. Yet the operatic Quills, set in the asylum where Sade finished out his days, makes a fairly conventional argument against censorship; Sade takes place a decade earlier, during the Reign of Terror, and it neatly juxtaposes Sade's notions about pain and pleasure with the wanton cruelty of the age. Arrested for his noble blood, the marquis (Daniel Auteuil in a spellbinding performance) is imprisoned at Picpus, a relatively posh former hospital where the wealthy await their turn at the guillotine. Screenwriters Jacques Fieschi and Bernard Minoret fabricate a subplot in which Sade's mistress (Marianne Denicourt) gives herself to one of Robespierre's deputies (Gregoire Colin) to buy her lover time, and the deputy's sadistic treatment of her contrasts with Sade's gentle corruption of a young girl (Isild Le Besco) whose family is quartered in the room next to his. In French with subtitles. 100 min. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, August 30 through September 5.

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