I confessed recently that Dangerous Liaisons was one of the many R rated films I saw at too young an age. Frear’s 1988 production (I call it a classic, even as I’m aware it doesn’t fit the bill in the conventional sense) is inspired by a French play of the same name and holds the distinction of earning Glenn Close her fifth (and, thus far, final) Oscar nomination and Michelle Pfeiffer – her first. The story is of Countess De Meteil, a somewhat sadistic noblewoman and friend of renowned seducer Vicomte. If Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was a tale of fun and games, Dangerous Liaisons could easily exist as a companion piece – but without the hopeful end. As the Countess and the Viscomte stand across each other in between them are their pawns – Madame du Tourvel, Madame, Sir and Cecile Volange. Relationships will be severed, new ones will arise, voices will be raised and alliances (both platonic and sexual) will be formed.
Last year, when Glenn Close won her second Emmy for her work on Damages, she thanked the creators for giving her what she said was maybe a role of a lifetime. Obviously her age was catching up with her, and she had forgotten her tenure in the eighties. From 1981 to 1988 Glenn earned five Oscar nominations. Five nominations in eight years, a feat that’s remarkable, regardless of your thoughts on the lady. In Dangerous Liaisons, she reaches the epitome of her skill (on film at least) creating a deeply flawed, thoroughly entertaining and highly quotable character. I always remember her first, when I think of Dangerous Liaisons. It’s only when I actually watch the film that I realise that she doesn’t loom over the narrative as much as my memory dictates. It’s easy to be drawn in by her excellent line readings, but one should never underestimate Close’s talent for subtlety. The moment I remember first is an incidental one. She arrives to steer the troubled Cecile in the right direction. She comes out of the carriage and makes the slightest, slightest, look of distaste under her hat and within the same second throws her hands out to embrace her tortured friend. It’s a moment that makes me catch my breath. Glenn plays it just right, and then some.
She’s not doing the work on her own, though. She’s surrounded by excellence. John Malkovich seems gloriously miscast and yet perfect for the role of the Vicomte. There’s something perverse in having him with his angular features and slight lisp playing the role of such a seducer, but it’s his speaking that convince you. He’s even more adept than Close at letting those wonderful lines roll from his tongue. It’s what makes the rapport between him and Pfeiffer so excellent. I know many are unmoved by her Volange, but I remain impressed each time I see it. It’s not so much that I love it for what she does (which is excellent) but I appreciate it even more for what she doesn’t do. There are so many ways this performance is almost begging to be bad and Pfeiffer each of the potholes with the highest element of subtlety. Uma Thurman impresses with that certain naïve charm that’s as comical as it is heartbreaking, it’s a divide enhanced by Swoozie Kurtz doing wonders as her mothers. Keanu Reeves doesn’t diminish the quality of the film, even lending in some instances a rare whimsical charm (that has obviously been eroded by age).
With such excellent details there’s no chance of me not appreciating it. The mere presence of Glenn Close is enough, and then added to all the other wonders Dangerous Liaisons cannot but be a favourite of mine. After all, it is beyond my control…