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Film / Valmont

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Valmont is a 1989 romantic drama film directed by Miloš Forman, starring Colin Firth, Annette Bening, and Meg Tilly. It is an adaptation of the 18th-century French novel Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos. It was released less than one year after another adaptation of the book, Dangerous Liaisons (1988), which was directed by Stephen Frears.

The devilish and devious Marquise de Merteuil (Bening) is the last one to know that her long-time lover Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones) is getting married to Merteuil's fifteen-year-old cousin Cécile de Volanges (Fairuza Balk). Merteuil is incensed to learn that the hypocritical Gercourt insisted on keeping Cécile in a convent until their marriage to insure her virginity—and that he's been secretly slandering Merteuil all over Paris.

Seething, Merteuil calls on her oldest friend and greatest rival the Vicompte de Valmont (Firth) and enlists him to take Cécile's virginity before her wedding night, insuring Gercourt will be the laughing stock of Paris. But Valmont's not interested in a fifteen-year-old child; his eye's on Madame de Tourvel (Tilly), a notoriously virtuous and beautiful married woman who's been resisting his advances for months. To keep things interesting, Merteuil sets up a wager with Valmont: if he can bed Tourvel, he can also bed Merteuil.

In the middle of all this, Cécile has developed an innocent passion for her seventeen-year-old music teacher Danceny (Henry Thomas) and begs Merteuil for help, while Valmont has pursued Tourvel into the countryside, where she is staying while her husband's away on business. Everybody Has Lots of Sex, a lot of letters are employed to heighten the stakes, and things soon spiral into tragedy.

Valmont provides examples of:

  • Ambiguously Bi: There is a scene where Cécile's mother is looking for her. Cécile's bedroom is empty, so she is afraid that Cécile might have spent the night with a man. She eventually finds Cécile in Merteuil's bed and she seems relieved, but the viewer who, unlike Cécile's mother, knows Merteuil's true personality, might suspect that Merteuil and Cécile are more than friends.
  • Arranged Marriage: Cécile's mother wants her to marry Gercourt, a much older man, who Cécile does not like. She marries him in the end.
  • Batman Gambit: When she arranges a secret meeting between Cécile and Danceny, Merteuil asks Cécile to beg her mother to let her go to the opera. For Merteuil's plan to succeed, Cécile's mother needs to deny the request, which she actually does.
  • The Bet: Valmont and Merteuil hatch a bet that he will be able to seduce Tourvel. If he wins, Merteuil will spend the night with him. If he loses, he will become a monk. When Valmont wins, Merteuil does not want to honour the deal, claiming that it was a joke. As he insists, she agrees to have sex with him, but makes it plain that she intends to lie back and think of France. Valmont is disgusted by the idea and storms out.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Merteuil seems to be very friendly with Cécile and her mother, but her goal is to ruin Cécile's reputation to humiliate her future husband, Gercourt.
  • The Casanova: Valmont has the reputation of being a womanizer. He manages to seduce a baroness, Cécile, and Tourvel.
  • The Corrupter: Merteuil's goal is to arrange for Cécile to lose her virginity before her wedding in order to humiliate Merteuil's former lover.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Cécile is an innocent convent girl who trusts Merteuil without realizing the older woman is using her for her own ends.
  • Duel to the Death: When he hears that Valmont slept with Cécile, Danceny challenges him to a duel and kills him.
  • The Film of the Book: The film is an adaptation of the 18th-century French novel Dangerous Liaisons by Choderlos de Laclos, but takes several liberties with the original plot.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Valmont largely seems to want Tourvel simply because she's well-known to be a faithful wife.
  • Grave-Marking Scene: In the film's final scene, Tourvel leaves a single rose on Valmont's grave before returning to her husband.
  • Happily Ever After: Inverted. In the end, Cécile marries Gercourt. The man she loved, Danceny, attends the ceremony, surrounded by other women. Meanwhile, Tourvel has reconciled with her husband, who appears to have forgiven her for her tryst with Valmont.
  • The Ingenue: Cécile has spent her whole childhood in a convent, trusts everyone, and doesn't even realize when she's being seduced. Merteuil can easily manipulates her.
  • Love Dodecahedron:
    • Valmont is Merteuil's ex-lover (and he proposes to her). He seduces Cécile and Tourvel.
    • Cécile is in love with Danceny. She sleeps with Valmont. She marries Gercourt in the end. A scene also suggests that she might have a lesbian relationship with Merteuil.
    • Merteuil is Gercourt's lover. She also seduces Danceny.
  • Manipulative Bastard:
    • Merteuil manipulates everybody to achieve her goals. For example, she arranges a secret meeting between Cécile and Danceny, she writes the letters that both lovers send to each other, she suggests to Valmont to go in Cécile's bedroom...
    • Valmont has shades of this too: when he wants to cause tension between Merteuil and Danceny, he persuades Cécile to send Danceny a letter which says that Merteuil wants her to marry Gercourt and keep Danceny as her lover.
  • May–December Romance: Tourvel is much younger than her absent husband but is nonetheless devoted to him. The feeling appears to be mutual, as her husband eventually forgives her for adultery. We only see them together in two scenes, but they appear to care deeply for one another.
  • Nature Adores a Virgin: Gercourt is fixated on the purity of his future wife. This is why Merteuil decides to corrupt Cécile to humiliate him.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: Gercourt is several decades older than Cécile.
  • Protagonist Title: Valmont is one of the protagonists of the film, along with Merteuil.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: Merteuil's servant herds Cécile into a very revealing dress for her first secret meeting with Danceny. It does not work: Cécile is too innocent to understand what's going on and Danceny is too honorable to take advantage.
  • Runaway Fiancé: In the end, Valmont suggests to Cécile that she runs away from her mother's house to escape from an Arranged Marriage. However, Cécile has already told her mother everything and orders Valmont out of the house.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • In the novel, Madame de Tourvel dies after hearing of the death of Valmont. In this film, she survives and she becomes reconciled with her husband.
    • In the novel, Merteuil gets smallpox and goes insane when the disease destroys her beauty. She survives in the film, with her punishment being the loss of her place in society and the knowledge that she has lost all her lovers and was indirectly responsible for the death of the only man she truly loved.
    • Both the novel and the film end with Cécile pregnant with Valmont's child. In the book, she miscarries before the wedding, causing Gercourt to break the engagement and forcing her to return to the convent., loses her mind. The film shows her marrying Gercourt, implying that she will convince Gercourt the baby is his own.
  • Suicide by Cop: When Danceny challenges him to a duel, Valmont gets drunk, so that he is not able to fight properly. Danceny is reluctant to fight a drunken man, but Valmont attacks him, so he is forced to fight and eventually kill Valmont.
  • Villain Protagonist: The two protagonists, Valmont and Merteuil, are villains who manipulate innocent characters.
  • Woman Scorned: The plot kicks off because Merteuil wants to punish her former lover Gercourt for rejecting her to get married.
  • You Are Grounded!: Cécile is grounded by her mother after her secret correspondence with Danceny is discovered. Danceny is dismisses and Cécile confined to the house.