With subject matter touching on rape, necrophilia and bestiality, it's no wonder the life and times of French writer the Marquis de Sade still spark controversy, centuries after his death in 1814.
Loathed by Puritans, scorned by the moral majority, revered by nihilists, you have to think this French aristocrat and guru to sexual extremists would've been thrilled to know that his very name would live on forever in the English dictionary as the root of the word "sadism."
Was he a pioneer philosopher or the father of pornography? Revolutionary or madman? Dangerous sexual offender or warrior for freedom of expression? These are some questions posed and unanswered by Philip Kaufman's Quills, a sympathetic and, I think, too glib portrayal of the de Sade tale. Also, the film only deals with the last years of his life while imprisoned in the Charenton insane asylum, and does not delve into the many transgressions and sexually violent escapades that landed him there.
With that said, Geoffrey Rush gives an amazing performance as the irrepressibly driven Donatien Alphonse François de Sade. In Quills, the incarcerated de Sade befriends Charenton's director, the young priest, Abbé de Coulmier (Joaquin Phoenix) who accords special privileges to the Marquis in exchange for fine wine and pithy banter.
De Sade charms and cajoles the beautiful, maiden laundress Madeleine (Kate Winslet) to smuggle his writings out of Charenton for publication, at her own great risk. A tender friendship and flirtation develops between the two on screen. Once the news of his published books reaches the powers that be, de Sade suffers greatly as, one by one, his privileges are revoked by de Coulmier.
De Coulmier's hand is forced by Dr. Royer-Collard (Michael Caine), a man appointed by Napolean himself to silence de Sade. The greatest punishment of all is the removal of quills and paper, pushing the unstoppable de Sade to employ grotesque measures to continue his craft. The film is star-studded, well-written, engaging and received enormous critical acclaim on its release in 2000 with over 50 award nominations including three Oscar nods.
There really is only one wine to truly go with this film which, alas, it's not yet available in Canada (I'm working on that). Compte Xavier de Sade, the descendant of the infamous Marquis, founded a winery and produced a line of Champagne honoring the Marquis de Sade.
Today the line is produced by Michel Gonet et Fils and lucky Americans can find the Marquis De Sade Champagne "Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru Prestige" Millésimé 2000 for a mere $26.99 USD! Made from 100 per cent Chardonnay grapes from Epernay, this rare beauty has a powerful floral nose with good mineral quality. So lively on the tongue, the fine bubbles delight with a lengthy finish. This Champagne was aged a minimum of three years in bottle prior to release and is ready for drinking now.
But Canadian readers shouldn't feel left out. The Marquis himself had a horrible penchant (among many) for his native red wine. In the scene in which his wine is confiscated, de Sade makes a mad dash for two bottles, most presumably Bordeaux. With equal fervor, procure yourself a couple of bottles of Château Loudenne Cru Bourgeois 2001 ($38.95 CDN, $22.99 USD) from the Médoc region of Bordeaux.
By way of refresher, Bordeaux is one of the largest and most famous wine regions in the world, located towards the south of France and inland from the Atlantic coast along the Gironde estuary. It is further divided by the Garonne and Dordogne rivers, which flow into the Gironde. The Médoc is located on the left bank of the Gironde and is home to Bordeaux's finest sub-regions. Bordeaux wine is most often a blended wine and only the following grape varieties are allowed: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
Château Loudenne Cru Bourgeois 2001 is ruby red with a nose of ripe red fruit with a touch of anise. With 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 55 per cent Merlot, 4 per cent Cabernet Franc and 1 per cent Petit Verdot, the palate is full and changeable with big, chewy tannins toward the end, leading into an impressive finish. With its enduring and bold character, Château Loudenne Cru Bourgeois 2001 is a fitting companion to Quills.
Jill Vanderkooy, Sommelier and certifiable bon vivant, has worked in the wine industry for over 10 years, has been drinking wine for 25 years and is a true devotee of film across all genres. Her liver thanks you for reading.