Plot: What’s it about?
It is said that pleasure & pain sometimes go hand in hand and perhaps no one believe that more than the Marquis de Sade (Keir Dullea), the infamous sadist who not only broke all the taboos, but shattered some that no one even knew existed. The realm between madness and genius, the same one that wavers between pleasure and pain, this was where de Sade lived his life and would have it no other way, as it was his ideal residence. As he embraced all of life’s perverse pleasures, de Sade experimented with pain in various volumes, although he was almost always the giver, with beautiful young women as the recipients. In truth, it seems as though he wanders off from anything resembling normalcy, choosing to remain on the darker side and whenever possible, harming others to bring himself immense pleasure. But as this cruel man always been such a person and if not, what pushed him to such horrific ends? And as time passes, what will become of de Sade and the perverse world in which he thrives?
A number of films have been over the years about the infamous Marquis de Sade, but if you ask me, one of the best is de Sade, a film written by Richard Matheson (The Omega Man, Duel, The Devil Rides Out, The Legend of Hell House). When I say best, I mean most fun and most fitting to the material, as what better blend to bring de Sade’s tale to life than a mixture of arthouse & exploitation? This way, we have the violence & sex as de Sade would have wanted, but also a touch of class, which fits in with the era of and of course, de Sade’s own lifestyle was a lush, pampered one. Yes, the film is rather tame by modern standards and could use an injection of sex & violence, but I think it captures an eerie texture, which makes de Sade’s story that much more bizarre, if that is possible. I’ve read reviews that claim that film is too slow, too dull, or that Keir Dullea’s performance is off, but I guess I just have a soft spot for the unique, as I think de Sade is a lot of fun, though it is rather slow at times. I love the visuals here, from the excellent production design to the superb cinematography, which help build an offbeat atmosphere. This kind of movie is certain to divide audiences, but I give de Sade a solid recommendation, as it has a chaotic nature, solid performances, and of course, the antics of the old Marquis de Sade himself.
I’ve never been a real fan of Keir Dullea, so I didn’t expect to enjoy his work here, but he turns in an off kilter, unique performance that seems to fit the material. With a character like de Sade, it is common to see actors take the chaos and run too far with it, creating an almost cartoonish type de Sade, but Dullea remains in the acceptable range. Of course, he still gets more animated than ever and runs amok in some scenes, but he retains the mean streak vital to the role, this is de Sade, after all, right? His turn here is often hammered as totally off base, but I think his oft criticized vocal patterns fit the part, if just because of how unusual it can become. Other films with Dullea include Blind Date, 2010, Black Christmas, Madame X, Bunny Lake is Missing, and of course, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The cast also includes Senta Berger (The Strangers, Scandal in Rome), Lilli Palmer (The Holcroft Convenant, The House That Screamed), and the excellent Anna Massey (Peeping Tom, Gentlemen Don’t Eat Poets).
Video: How does it look?
de Sade is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. With all the different filters, color screens, and other tricks used to enhance the visuals of this film, it can be a tough task to score the video of de Sade. I’ve seen this in a couple other incarnations however, so I have some sort of a guide and in that respect, I’d rank this as easily the best home video treatment, which should please fans. The image has some grain, print wear, and softness present, but given the age & extensive image manipulation involved, I can be more lenient than usual. The colors sometimes look vivid and other times muted, while black levels are well balanced, but at times a little grainy, so prepare a stable, but flawed visual treatment.
Audio: How does it sound?
A basic, run of the mill mono option is used here, but it sounds stable and seems to cover the material well enough. The dialogue is clean and never harsh, but is a tad muffled in a few scenes, though nothing too serious. The music is about as strange as can be and comes through well here, though perhaps a little thin, though that is due more to the limits of the material, as opposed to a flaw in this mix. The same can be said about the various sound effects, which are acceptable, though on the thin side in some scenes. This disc also includes a French language option, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This disc contains an informative “Richard Matheson Storytellers” featurette, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.