The Curmudgeon


Saturday, October 15, 2016


Henri Xhonneux 1989

Quite apart from the director's name beginning with X, the credits include the French writer and cartoonist Roland Topor, which is generally a good sign. Topor wrote the brilliant source novel for Roman Polanski's The Tenant, played the hysterically giggling Renfield in Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, and designed the extraordinary imagery for René Laloux's La Planète Sauvage. Here, Topor is credited as co-writer along with the director, and the project is about as normal, sane and healthy as one might expect.

Marquis depicts the run-up to the French Revolution from the viewpoint of an imprisoned writer, his jailers and various others. As in the more recent Quills, a hypocritical establishment condemns the author's work while hijacking it for profit; in Marquis the piracy is carried out under the pseudonymous acronym SADE.

Apart from a couple of claymation dream sequences, the film is performed by actors in animal masks. Characters include various bovines and ovines, a sexually degenerate chicken and a rodent turnkey (complete with long tail) with an obsessive longing for the Marquis to bugger him. The Marquis himself is a soft-spoken canine whose spaniel ears suggest a balding man's ruff; his prodigiously-sized penis has a face, a voice and a will of its own, and is appropriately named Colin ("little dog"). The Marquis' anarchic member gets him into all sorts of trouble, but also provides him with company, consolation and occasional literary advice.

The Marquis is in the dog-house for blasphemy, but the authorities plan to make him the goat for the ravishment of a fallen ovine named Justine, who has been left in an interesting condition by a beast of quality. Outside the Bastille, revolutionary conspirators hatch their own plots, led by the aristocratic wanton Juliette, who has the prison governor under her hoof.

Dedicated to de Sade and the Comte de Buffon, the story proceeds at a measured pace, its unhurried visuals as far as can be imagined from campy overdrive or cartoon frenzy. Like the work of Buñuel and Švankmajer, and like Topor's own unadorned prose style, Marquis is content to let its lunatic world and demented characters speak for themselves. As another humorous Beast might have said, make of it what you will.


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