Choderlos de Laclos's novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses has been the object of four main cinematic adaptations, all very different from one another or from the source text itself. These films are Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (1959) by Roger Vadim, Dangerous Liaisons (1988) by Stephen Frears, Valmont (1989) by Milos Foreman and Cruel Intentions (1999) by Roger Kumble. All these filmmakers departed from the same text and worked on it, some of them respected the time of the events, others played with the subject but changed the setting (like Vadim and Kumble). Laclos's work is an epistolary novel and we will see in what way it is a challenge to adapt such a novel, how the letters are included and used in the films, the rules dictated by this specific genre. Voyeurism in both novel and adaptations is an important element we shall discuss. Of course, we notice some changes from an adaptation to another, and we will try to point the major ones out in order to compare them.
[...] It is interesting to see what the change of context, both in Cruel Intentions and in Les Liaisons Dangereuses: 1960, have added to the story. Vadim chose to use the main lines to criticize marriage and other institutions. The improbable ending shows Merteuil with her face burnt because of the letters she tried to make disappear: the inside ends up shown outside. In Kumble's movie, which could be easily put in the category of “teen-movie”, other social facts are dealt with, like the use of drugs, racism or even homophobia. [...]
[...] In Valmont, Merteuil appears less strong, she has a childish behaviour, and the choice of the actress reinforces this impression: Anette Bening is a young smiling woman, with smooth features and it contrasts with De Laclos's character. She even sometimes appears simply vulgar, through her speech or her attitude. In the adaptations in general, Merteuil is no longer an engaged feminist character fighting against double-standard and male domination, but rather a jealous and embittered woman who is against true love and who is finally defeated. [...]
[...] But Les Liaisons Dangereuses is not only interesting because it is an n epistolary novel. It also deals with society problems: the problematic is set on the values of the 18th century society and what goes on behind the scenes in this context. The novel has often been said to be feminist and to be critical of the double standard. We will see how gender and sexuality are treated in the book and in the four films. One of the most striking characters of the novel is Mme de Merteuil. [...]
[...] In all adaptations, except in Les Liaisons Dangereuses: 1960, we also notice that Mme Volanges is very protective : to emphasize this, Frears even made Mme Volange leaving the room with Cécile when Valmont comes, as if she already feared the bad influence this man could have on her daughter. We can also pick some specific scenes from the different adaptations and try to study and compare them, which enables us to estimate the impact of the criticism on society in each movie. [...]
[...] Moreover, he chose the actors and we are now to place a face on the characters we had imagined during our reading of the novel (indeed, in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, we have only very few elements of description for the characters, not to say not any). The words of a novel have a symbolic meaning, and the reader has to fill in the gaps with our own imagination . He also controls the mise-en- scène and creates his own universe in the story, according to the way he studied the novel . [...]
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