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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: November 28th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1989

Valmont

Overview -

The French novel Le Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos has been adapted quite a few times on a big screen, most notably with Stephen Frears’ 1988 film Dangerous Liaisons. Legendary Czech-American filmmaker Milos Forman took his shot at the same material with his 1989 film Valmont, a lukewarm and sexed-down version of the novel that features terrific performances by Colin Firth and Annette Benning. Valmont has arrived on Blu-ray for the first time in the US courtesy of Kino Lorber Studio Classics with a decent transfer and a small supplements package. This release is Recommended!

In 18th-century France, a cruel and calculating playboy, Valmont, makes a malicious wager with the equally wicked Madame de Merteuil: Valmont must dishonor the married Madame de Tourvel bying with her. If Valmont succeeds, he gets the privilege of Merteuil's bed as well. But when Valmont sets out on his task, the unexpected happens - he falls in love with Tourvel! And now Merteuil will stop at nothing to destroy Valmont's newfound passion. Starring Colin Firth, Annette Bening, Meg Tilly, Fairuza Balk, and Siân Phillips.

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Release Date:
November 28th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Again, Dangerous Liaisons has been adapted quite a few times over the years, so I’ll spend some time in my review to compare the various adaptations a bit. There’s a clear gap between Stephen Frears’ thorny, lived-in direction and Forman’s classical approach. A main difference between the two adaptations, released one year after the other, is that Frears’ film had a much smaller budget and didn’t have the breathless, ornate production design that Forman’s 35-million-dollar-budgeted film had. Frears’ film was also much more claustrophobic and unsettling, with Forman’s opting to show how deception is baked into human nature. It’s much easier to lie, cheat, and steal than the original play and novel lead you to believe. If Forman’s film is successful at all at reflecting upon the mores of the original novel and surmising that modern society isn’t much different.

In 18th-century France, the Marquise de Merteuil (Annette Benning) learns that her secret lover Gercourt (Jeffrey Jones) is to be betrothed to Cécile de Volanges (Fairuza Balk), a fifteen-year-old girl raised in a convent to be chaste for her husband. This pisses off Merteuil, so she hatches a plot with her former lover, the womanizer Vicomte de Valmont (Colin Firth), to take Cécile’s virginity before she marries. Valmont isn’t interested in Cécile, so he proposes a different wager: if he can bed the married Madame de Tourvel (Meg Tilly), then he can then bed Merteuil. If he loses, then to a monastery he must go!

I was most taken with Forman’s dedication to recreating the environments in which the novel took place. The filmmaker was informed during production that Dangerous Liaisons would be beating it to theaters, but that gave Forman more confidence to spend even more time on making sure his adaptation set itself apart from the pack. And set itself apart it did, with a slightly changed ending that better reflects an emotional investment in the good of each character. To Forman, he found the novel’s ending misplaced since it just punished every single character.

Colin Firth also excels as Valmont, with his trademark handsome English looks being the perfect disguise for someone who is trying to bed everyone he wants. The vacillation between womanizer and incredibly sensitive aristocrat is handled wonderfully by Firth and the script, and having Firth face off against Annette Benning makes for some delicious dialogue. Benning is wonderful as well, delighting in her sexual power over the male characters. That being said, all the various subtractions from the novel result in the story being a bit toothless. The film’s a lush drama with not much focus. By trying to turn the story into something more heartwarming and amiable, the point of the art gets lost in the mix.

Whether you think this is a good adaptation or not, it’s undeniable the film’s power in its production design and direction. Forman is such a confident formalist, trusting his sets to add the needed capaciousness and decadence to the proceedings. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t coalesce into the sum of its disparate parts.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Valmont is ready to woo his way into your home on Blu-ray with a BD50 disc in a standard blue amaray case with an o-card slipcover over it. The disc boots up to a standard menu screen with options to play the film, set up audio and explore bonus features.

NOTE: Due to a technical glitch we haven't been able to pull disc-sourced images yet, but as soon as we can we aim to circle back and punch up this review with images and/or a video sample. 

Video Review

Ranking:

Valmont arrives on Blu-ray for the first time ever in the US with a 1080p presentation sourced from a 2K scan of the 35mm interpositive. The presentation itself is solid, with a consistently high bitrate that brings out the most from the source. The problem is the source itself, as the interpositive was either not in terrific condition or was hastily produced years ago. The result is an image that is a bit shaky and could have been stabilized a bit more. You’ll see this most noticeably in wide shots. That isn’t the zoom working, it’s an issue with the image printed onto the interpositive, so some stabilization would have been nice. That being said, color density and grain is good overall, but there’s clear softness where there should be depth and black levels tend to get a bit noisy. This is still the best the film has looked at home, but boy do I wish it was sourced from the OCN rather than the IP, though I understand if materials are scarce, then there’s not much to work with.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The only track included is a 2.0 DTS-HD MA English and it’s a very clean presentation that handles dialogue and the sweeping score nicely. The source is in good condition and I didn’t notice any damage or hiss involved. Bass levels are appreciable in this stereo track as well, putting some extra oomph in climactic scenes of emotional reckoning.

Special Features

Ranking:

Valmont only comes with a single featurette and a litany of trailers, however the one featurette is a nice interview with Milos Forman where the filmmaker talks about his career for about 15 minutes. An audio commentary by film historian Daniel Kremer is included as well, breaking down various production details wonderfully for the uninitiated. 

  • Audio commentary by film historian/filmmaker Daniel Kremer
  • The Art of Seduction: Milos Forman on Valmont (SD 14:57)

Milos Forman’s adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, Valmont, may not be the perfect representation of the social mores inherent in the novel, but it sure provides the lush, dramatic entertainment popularized by the novel. While the new 1080p presentation leaves more than a bit to be desired, I’m excited for this film to finally make its US Blu-ray debut. This release comes Recommended