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Choderlos de Laclos's : Les Liaisons Dangereuses

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
    1. An epistolary novel.
    2. The problem of voyeurism.
    3. A cinematic adaptation.
    4. Creation, innovations and originality.
  3. The adaptations of an epistolary novel.
    1. How letters are used or replaced in the more modern adaptations.
    2. Frear's adaptation.
    3. Cruel Intentions.
  4. This theme of perverseness of education.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

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. [...]

[...] We shall then highlight what these cinematic adaptations of Les Liaisons Dangereuses bring to the text, how they can enrich today's interpretation of the main issues it deals with. Les Liaisons Dangereuses is an epistolary novel, and this specificity added a difficulty for the adaptation from this text to screen. In such novels, there is no objective point of view; we only discover the characters and their personality through their letters and trough what the others write about them. For example, we get to know Valmont from different points of view and realise that we have in fact ?several Valmont?. [...]

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