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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 51.03)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    Hebrew, Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary - writer Doug Wright
  • 3 Featurette
  • Photo gallery - production artefacts
  • Animated menus
  • TV spot

Quills

Fox Searchlight/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 119 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

His movies as a director may seem at first glance to be incredibly divergent in style, but Philip Kaufman’s approach to telling stories is, in fact, quite consistent. Well known for action-loaded films like The Wanderers, The Right Stuff and thriller Rising Sun - and for writing the original story for Raiders of the Lost Ark - Kaufman has become better known in recent years as a director of more deliberately-paced art-house films. The thing is, as those who’ve seen The Unbearable Lightness of Being or Henry and June know all too well (yes, there have only been two such films from Kaufman in over 20 years), this director is seemingly incapable of making a boring picture. At close to three hours in length and very freely adapted from Milan Kundera’s book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was a compelling sexual drama - with a uniquely comedic edge - that didn’t waste a second of screen time and which remains one of the best films of its kind. Two years later, Henry and June used the writings of Anais Nin as a starting point for a fascinating story of that writer’s sexual relationship with American writer Henry Miller and his wife; far from being a staid character study, the film embraced its subject matter to the point where a new MPAA rating had to be created for it (the now-infamous NC-17). So when Philip Kaufman makes his second movie in ten years a screen adaptation of a play about the Marquis de Sade, you know that you’re in for anything but a dull historical yawnfest. Not that the Marquis, whose name and writings spawned the term “sadism”, is going to be all that easy to be dull about in the first place.

The play, written by Doug Wright (who also wrote the movie’s screenplay), takes the history of the Marquis as a starting point and then spices it up with liberal doses of fiction in very much the style of the work of the man himself. Like Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, this is most certainly not a history lesson - it’s a stylised tale that lends credibility to its fiction by way of incorporating a good amount of fact.

The Marquis (Geoffrey Rush, in one of the performances of his career) has been imprisoned by an angry Napoleon in a French mental institution during the late 1700s. Passing the time by writing stories and books, the Marquis - who, given copious quantities of the institution’s wine and a relatively lavish “cell” - gets the resulting text out to the world and manages to get it published thanks to the help of a couple of trusted friends, one of whom is laundry girl Madeleine LeClerc (Kate Winslet). Smuggling pages out inside bundles of sheets and clothes, she takes ever greater risks to help her friend as the publication of his writings angers Napoleon who, under the eye of Doctor Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), brings ever more restrictive conditions upon the increasingly desperate Marquis. Perhaps not surprisingly, in such an environment tragedy is not far away...

What sounds like a thin premise for a story is given vivid life and vitality by Wright’s wonderfully passionate screenplay, terrific performances and a real sense of time and place that’s rich in detail and atmosphere. But best of all, Kaufman’s direction is constantly active, never risking this turning into a celluloid version of a static stage play. Armed with great words, excellent actors and spot-on production design, he puts the film together skilfully so that it’s loaded with forward momentum from start to finish - absolutely nothing drags here, not even for a second. Not surprisingly, given the subject matter, there’s a fair amount of sexual material here, and typically it’s handled both unflinchingly and non-exploitatively - in fact, at times almost with a knowing sense of fun, an approach that also served Unbearable Lightness of Being extremely well.

The central focus here, though, is Geoffrey Rush’s performance - he steals every scene he’s in, and that includes the ones he shares with Michael Caine - no small achievement. Winslet’s part is comparatively small - in fact, Joaquin Phoenix gets far more screen time as the increasingly put-upon Abbe de Coulmier. But everyone here, from Rush down to the one-scene players, is excellent, and in the skilful hands of the cast, Wright and Kaufman, Quills is a wonderfully flamboyant visual and visceral feast of a film. It’s also a timely story about the shady motivations behind and dangers of censorship, something that’s as appropriate today as ever, particularly in the regressively moralistic climate that’s currently simmering in Australia.

  Video
Contract

Presented at its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 16:9 enhanced, this is a very nice video transfer indeed of a film that is determinedly unconventional in look. There’s a decidedly greenish, dank look to much of the film, and this is, of course, completely deliberate - the time and place of the story is evoked here as much by the film’s colour palette as it is the sets themselves, and this video transfer reproduces it the way cinematographer Rogier Stoffers intended it to look.

With its pastel hues and crisply-rendered surfaces, this is an unconventional transfer that at times recalls the way Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was handled on DVD; blacks are not always pure black here and shadows are sometimes washed out by indistinct haze; this is also deliberate. Indeed, it’s rare for a modern major-studio video transfer to represent anything less than the will of the filmmakers, and those who know the film will find nothing to complain about here. Edge enhancement is non-existent, and there are no compression problems on the dual-layered disc. The layer change, by the way, is extremely well placed during a fade to black and most won’t notice it.

  Audio
Contract

For what many might expect to be a dialogue-driven film, Quills boasts a very nicely-done Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that takes full advantage of the multi-channel sound stage. Dialogue is anchored to the centre, with subtle room ambience from that dialogue spread across the front speakers; the surrounds are used both subtly for atmospherics and, later, extremely aggressively for sound effects. Not unusually, the LFE channel is unused throughout the film, any deep bass being reproduced by the main speakers; it’s actually a 5.0 soundtrack. There’s not much reason, in a film about 18th century France, to crank up the subwoofer. The filmmakers have wisely resisted the temptation.

  Extras
Contract

The extra features included here aren’t spectacular - in fact, aside from the commentary they’re largely promotional in style - but the good news is that the region 4 version contains everything everyone else gets.

Audio Commentary: Screenwriter Doug Wright talks us through the film, and offers some interesting insights whilst never really engaging the attention - the lengthy silences not helping in that department. It’s a shame Philip Kaufman, who has done the DVD commentary thing before and is fascinating to listen to, couldn’t have either joined Wright or offered his own commentary; still it is very interesting to hear the man who created this story offer his own perspective on the filming of it. A big fat raspberry to Fox for their continued insistence on encoding commentaries at an ultra-low 96Kbps bitrate; as usual, this results in something that sounds like an AM radio, and with copious amounts of distortion and high-frequency ringing it’s incredibly unpleasant to listen to. Most won’t get very far through this commentary as a result. We’re sure we don’t need to remind Fox of the maths - using a proper 192Kbps bitrate would not impact significantly on disc space, of which there is ample free here. Fox is the only company doing this, and we’re going to keep on about it until they get it right.

Featurettes: The first annual Seriously Silly Title Of The Year Award goes to Marquis On The Marquee, the first and best of three short promo featurettes here - whoever thought that groan-worthy title up deserves a night in a Paris dungeon. That seven and a half minute offering spends a bit of time with cast and crew talking about Doug Wright’s script; also offered here are the four and a half minute Creating Charenton (about the production design) and the seven-minute Dressing The Part (not surprisingly, about the costumes). All full-frame, these three featurettes have adequate but unremarkable video quality, probably standards-converted from NTSC.

Trailers: A (single) full-frame theatrical trailer and a TV spot. The US disc includes more than one trailer, but we’re sure you’ll live without them.

Still Gallery Of Production Artefacts: A good idea, this - rather than the usual production photos, we’re presented with images of some of the objects used in the production design, including authentic-looking letters. Not extensive, but quite interesting to page through for a change.

Fact & Film: Text screens comparing the movie’s characters with those from history that they’re based on. Interesting, but nothing startling.

  Overall  
Contract

A visually striking and incredibly well-acted fictional drama abut factual figures, Quills is another winner from the sure hand of Philip Kaufman, and it’ll appeal greatly to those who’ve enjoyed his more cerebral work. It’ll also find an audience with those who like their historical dramas decidedly frank and fast-paced.

Fox’s DVD looks and sounds spot-on and presents the film flawlessly. The extras are only average (with a couple of key inclusions), but most people buying this disc will be perfectly satisfied with a pristine copy of the movie itself, and the disc doesn’t disappoint in that department.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1749
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      And I quote...
    "...another winner from the sure hand of Philip Kaufman... Fox’s DVD looks and sounds spot-on and presents the film flawlessly."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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