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France 1959
Directed by
Roger Vadim
106 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Liaisons Dangereuses, Les

Roger Vadim is best known today for having made a star of Brigitte Bardot but his updated version of  Pierre Ambroise Francois Choderlos de Laclos's 18th century novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses is a film that makes impressive use of late 50s French film-making conventions.

Set in contemporary Paris, Juliette de Merteuil (Jeanne Moreau) and her husband the Vicomte Valmont (Gerard Philippe) are a society couple who get their kicks messing around with other people’s lives. She sets him the task of seducing his soon-to-be-married young cousin Cécile (Jeanne Valérie) but in the process he falls in love with the beautiful and virtuous Marianne (Annette Stroyberg, the director's wife at the time). True love, needless to say, destroys their heartless pact and tragedy ensues.

Stripped of the original historical context and the wardrobe and manners to go with it, the vicious parlour games seems perhaps a little to contrived to be credible as a portrait of contemporary smart society but taken on its own terms Vadim’s film is quite effective. Gérard Philipe is no Mastroianni who would have been much better for the role of the ruthless seducer (he would be paired with Moreau in Michelangelo's 1961 film La Notte ) but Moreau is well-suited to the wickedly bent Juliette, quite literally a femme fatale.

Vadim, helped by Marcel Grignon’s fine black and white photography gives the proceedings plenty of pizzazz although he is much better handling the darker aspects of the story, including a debauched party in some private nightclub and giving it a very Wildean touch at the end, than the conventional romantic moments, which often look very cheesy. Not a major film but certainly one worth checking out if you enjoy the period.




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