In Valmont, costumes rustle delicately as their wearers move across exquisitely manicured estate lawns, faces glow softly in the candlelight, conversation purrs in lavishly appointed rooms, and what a stupefying bore it all is.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos’ 18th-century novel of sexual intrigue and power games, first came to popular attention with Christopher Hampton’s 1985 theatrical adaptation, then with the tart 1988 film version starring Glenn Close and John Malkovich. Confusingly, this second film version, by director Milos Forman, was released just one year after the acclaimed Close-Malkovich effort. Here the story still concerns adults behaving like children, but Forman’s vision features a cast of young actors ill-suited to high drama and appears to be about children behaving like children — hardly an engaging dramatic conflict.
Foremost among the bad and the bewigged is Valmont himself, a rake addicted to female flesh, but Colin Firth makes him curiously sexless. As the Marquise de Merteuil, his coconspirator who wishes to revenge herself on a former lover, Annette Bening is charming but one-dimensional and eventually grows tiresome. Meg Tilly, as the pious Madame de Tourvel to whom Valmont has laid sensual siege, looks as if she stepped out of a Watteau painting. But every time she opens her mouth she suggests nothing so much as a Valley Girl who has time-traveled to 18th-century France.
In Amadeus, Forman also showed his predilections for this historical period and for odd casting choices, but here his quirks are pompous and merely peculiar. Coming after the play and the exciting Dangerous Liaisons film, Valmont is the equivalent of double leftovers. Its sole appeal in movie theaters — its visual scope — has been hopelessly lost in the video format (Valmont has not been letterboxed to retain its original wide-screen effect). In being reduced to the scope of a TV set, the film has received the fate it so richly deserves. D-