dangerous-liaisons

Now, I’m not going to deny that I was aware of your beauty. But the point is, this has nothing to do with your beauty. As I got to know you, I began to realise that beauty was the least of your qualities. I became fascinated by your goodness. I was drawn in by it. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. And it was only when I began to feel actual, physical pain every time you left the room that it finally dawned on me: I was in love, for the first time in my life. I knew it was hopeless, but that didn’t matter to me. And it’s not that I want to have you. All I want is to deserve you. Tell me what to do. Show me how to behave. I’ll do anything you say
—  Choderlos de Laclos, from Dangerous Liaisons
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Les Liaisons dangereuses, one of the most scandalous novels of all time, is a French epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos, first published in four volumes by Durand Neveu from March 23, 1782. It is celebrated for its exploration of seduction, revenge, and human malice. The novel is often claimed to be the source of the saying “Revenge is a dish best served cold”, a paraphrased translation of “La vengeance est un plat qui se mange fraud”.

It is in the world of feature film that Laclos’s diabolical characters have been most memorably portrayed. The screenplay for Dangerous Liaisons (1988), directed by Stephen Frears, was adapted from the stage play by Christopher Hampton. Frears’s sharp, elegant drama stars a masterfully evil Glenn Close as the sinister Marquise de Merteuil. Close shares brilliant chemistry with John Malkovich as the snake-like Vicomte de Valmont. Michelle Pfeiffer radiates purity as Madame de Tourvel, and a young Uma Thurman rounds out the group as Cecile de Volanges. Set in stunning French chateaus and shot with polished camerawork, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards; it won for art direction, costume design, and adapted screenplay.

The teensploitation flick Cruel Intentions (1999) brings Laclos’s novel to the world of jaded Manhattan prep school students. It features Sarah Michelle Gellar as Kathryn Merteuil and Ryan Phillippe as her stepbrother Sebastian Valmont. Kathryn promises to have sex with her stepbrother if he can deflower the sniveling Cecile Caldwell, entertainingly played by Selma Blair. Sebastian agrees, but also sets his eye on the self-righteous prude Annette Hargrove, played by Reese Witherspoon. Slick and melodramatic, the movie by writer-director Roger Kumble is an innovative twist on Laclos’s story.