Valmont (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Jan 10, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Valmont (Blu-ray Review)


Miloš Forman

Release Date(s)

1989 (November 28, 2023)


Orion Pictures/MGM (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B+

Valmont (Blu-ray)

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Valmont, based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, is a film about sexual gamesmanship among 18th century French aristocracy. Erotic machinations and poisonous maneuvers constitute the basis of this elaborate period film.

The Marquise de Merteuil (Annette Bening, American Beauty) is a widow with a penchant for intrigue and the Vicomte de Valmont (Colin Firth, The King’s Speech) is a dashing, Casanova-like seducer. Madame de Valances (Sian Phillips, Dune), has removed her daughter, 15-year-old Cecile (Fairuza Balk, The Craft), from convent school to prepare her for an arranged marriage. Madame de Valances has kept the identity of the bridegroom a secret from everyone, including Cecile, and recruited the Marquise as the child bride-to-be’s mentor. When the Marquise discovers that the bridegroom is to be her own lover, Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones, Amadeus), she resolves to throw her velvet-covered monkey wrench into the works.

The Marquise wants Cecile to be debauched morally and physically before her marriage to humiliate Gercourt and proposes to her friend Valmont that he take care of the matter. As Valmont has no love for Gercourt and plenty of desire for women, he should be the perfect man for the job. But Valmont has fallen in love with Madame de Tourvel (Meg Tilly, Masquerade), the lovely, pious, faithful wife of a judge, and he has no inclination for minor seductions until he has won his way into Tourvel’s heart... and bed.

Under the direction of Miloš Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), Valmont is a lavish-looking film with a cast of fine actors who are instrumental in elevating this period soap opera into something much more, transforming shallow, frivolous, destructive characters into multi-faceted people. The film’s humor derives from a combination of drawing-room comedy and sexual naughtiness as intrigues brew within the country chateau of Valmont’s elderly aunt, Madame de Rosemonde (Fabia Drake, A Room with a View). Wisely, none of the actors attempts a French accent, which would have been a distraction.

Annette Bening has the showcase role. Her Marquise delights in her own wickedness, tempered with an always-alluring smile that belies the evil plotting that percolates within. She’s a beauty whose sympathetic manner and status as a widow has made her confidante to many, enabling her to easily inspire trust in those she will betray. Her soft purr of a voice is all gentility, but her intentions are cutthroat as she draws Valmont into her wicked plan.

Colin Firth plays Valmont as a combination of Errol Flynn swashbuckler and self-centered Lothario. His Valmont is also not terribly bright and often comes out the loser despite his ample self-confidence. He’s simply one of the Marquise’s necessary pawns, and he fails to see it.

Fairuza Balk plays Cecile as the child she is. She runs through the hallways of the convent when she’s late to class, is wide-eyed about her impending marriage and begs to know who her husband will be. When she truly falls for her music teacher, Danceny (Henry Thomas, E.T.), we can see her consternation as she becomes torn between either obeying her mother or following her heart.

Meg Tilly’s Madame de Tourvel has little to do other than appear loyal to her husband and rise above the inconvenience of her feelings for Valmont. She has one scene in which her pious veneer gives way to passion, but otherwise she wears only one expression. She’s a deer in the emotional headlights of social convention and peer expectations. As the embodiment of honor, loyalty, and innate goodness, she serves as contrast to the unhealthy desires and whims of her contemporaries. Yet compared to the other characters in the picture, she’s rather a wet blanket.

The film’s production design is rich. A marketplace scene, shown for only a few seconds, is filled with vendors, shoppers, men in stocks, horse-drawn carriages, and hundreds of extras. Costumes are a treat for the eye, with period dresses a standout. A ballroom scene is staged to show off the grandeur of the large curtained expanse as well as the finery worn by both men and women.

For a film that depends so much on sex and seduction, Valmont never pushes the parameters of good taste. What nudity there is, is not that frequent. Forman gets the plot going almost immediately, hooking the viewer at once. He makes following the intrigue both fun and fascinating. With so many principal characters, he manages to give each one ample screen time. There are places where the story drags and some editing could have tightened the narrative flow, but overall Valmont is an engrossing look at the follies and foibles of the French upper class of the 1700s.

Valmont was shot by director of photography Miroslav Ondricek on 35 mm film with Chevereau and Panavision Panaflex cameras, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.20:1 (2.39:1 for 70 mm prints). The Blu-ray features a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and was mastered from a 2K scan of the 35 mm interpositive. Clarity is very good, though some indoor crowd scenes lack sharpness. Outdoor scenes are pristine, with marketplaces, courtyards, and a picnic scene quite impressive. Detail is well delineated in costumes, jewelry, furnishings, and glistening chandeliers. Complexions are rendered flatteringly, especially for Bening’s Marquise. The color palette is broad with mostly pastels dominating. There are not many bold primary hues, giving the film the look of a fairy tale.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Bening’s manner of speaking is soft and sensitive, masking the Marquise’s clandestine plotting. Sound effects include a harp, clattering coaches, galloping horse, swords clanking, footsteps echoing through hallways, ambient noise at an outdoor market, water splashing in a tub, and the pomp of a wedding ceremony.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian/Filmmaker Daniel Kremer
  • The Art of Seduction: Director Miloš Forman on Valmont (15:35)
  • Trailer (2:01)
  • Man on the Moon Trailer(2:35)
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Trailer (2:01)
  • Masquerade Trailer (1:25)
  • Les Liaisons Dangereuses Trailer (3:57)

Audio Commentary – Film historian Daniel Kremer regards Valmont as an overlooked film in Miloš Forman’s body of work, partly because it was released one year after Les Liaisons Dangereuses, another film based on the same material. This likely hurt Valmont, a bitter, sly version that bares the humanity of the material. The original novel by Pierre Choderlos de Lacios was published in 1782 and caused an immediate scandal. Through the years, every art form has “had a go” at the novel—opera, stage, ballet, movies, TV—because of its ongoing mystique. Several earlier film versions of the novel are discussed. Forman imposed a vision different from the stage play, which adhered more closely to the novel. Screenwriter Jean-Clause Carriere, “a dynamo,” worked with many directors and wrote the screenplays for The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Tin Drum. Valmont had trappings similar to Forman’s Amadeus—costumes, salons, opera, settings, actors, cinematographer, musical coordinator, editor. Forman’s American films are about rebellion and several are used as examples to illustrate this. Films of the Czech New Wave are discussed. Comparisons are made between Stephen Frears’ Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Forman’s Valmont. The former cost $15 million, the latter $35 million. Forman wanted the film to “sweep.” As Valmont ends, a new way of life is being forged, and when the final credits roll, the closing of the novel is read.

The Art of Seduction: Director Miloš Forman on Valmont – Forman explains how he came to have Fireman’s Ball smuggled out of Czechoslovakia and shown in France. This made him known outside his native country, and his affection for the French and for French New Wave directors was established. He never felt Los Angeles was a place to work, with its perfect weather, palm trees, and sunshine, but a place to vacation, too distracting for work. He remained on the East Coast. He describes three stages in preparing a film: understanding the language; thinking you understand, but not being absolutely sure; and being very confident. He knew he had to turn to material written in its native language. According to Forman, more power and more money give you freedom to do what you want to do. He believed Les Liaisons Dangereuses would be perfect for a film adaptation, but remembered the book differently from the stage play. He collaborated with Jean-Clause Carriere, whom Forman credits as “great with storytelling.” If central details of a story are missing, you won’t have solid characters. Forman and Carriere read the dialogue out loud, knowing that the written word might not work when spoken by actors. They had to hear how the dialogue sounded.

Valmont is lush in appearance with incredible attention to detail. The young cast are all outstanding, and the screenplay isn’t afraid to get down and dirty when it comes to appearance vs. intent. This is a world of beauty with lust simmering beneath the surface and sometimes in plain view. It’s also about innocence and passion, viewed through a lens that reveals hypocrisies, jealousies, and pettiness. A sort of Peyton Place: 1700s Edition, Valmont seethes with intrigue and ardor.

- Dennis Seuling