Valmont, the 1989 adaptation of the book Dangerous Liaisons, was directed by Miloš Forman with costumes designed by Theodor Pištěk, the same team who brought you Amadeus (1984). I thought I had seen this movie back in the day, and maybe I had but forgotten, because it all seemed new to me. And you guys — I was disappointed! Trystan led me to believe that this was going to be a total shit-show. And compared to 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, okay, yes it is. But compared to Amadeus? It’s waaaay better.
I know the voting has been hot and heavy today over Braveheart vs. Valmont, and you may have already voted. But I just got done rewatching (and screencapping) Valmont, and I gotta run it down for you! So apologies if this seems last minute, because it is.
Director Forman started on Valmont before Dangerous Liaisons was announced, but he (and the studio) decided to persevere. According to Roger Ebert’s review/interview with the director, Valmont‘s difference was going to be the fact that it would have “elaborate interior and exterior sets that could not be rushed.” Poor Forman hadn’t seen DL when he was doing press for Valmont, which is good. Because while you can tell that money was spent on Valmont, DL has it beat, hands down, in the costume department, both in terms of quality and accuracy.
You can’t help comparing the two films. Dangerous Liaisons has stunning performances from all of the actors, amazing locations, and jaw-dropping costumes. It takes the story very seriously and darkly. Meanwhile, Valmont has some good performances (Annette Bening as Mme de Merteuil, Fairuza Balk as Cécile, and Sian Phillips as Mme de Volanges) and some not-so-great (Colin Firth as Valmont is sometimes good, sometimes embarrassing). This makes the story much lighter and frothier and changes the ending to be less tragic. The costumes are a mixed bag, with a few nice ones and a lot of “the hell?,” while the hair is Not Good.
But I think the other thing to compare this movie to is Amadeus, and Valmont is light years better than that one! Amadeus has practically no redeeming costumes and TRAGIC hair, while at least Valmont has a few decent things!
But, onwards. Let’s look at Valmont‘s costumes in-depth:
Madame de Merteuil
Played by Annette Bening, Madame de Merteuil is a scheming seductress who won’t stop laughing. It mostly works, giving the character a lighter feel than Glenn Close’s version in DL.
Her first costume is her traveling outfit: a pink satin double-breasted jacket with a dusty pink brocade-y petticoat. I thought the satin was pretty, I liked the double-breasted effect and all the buttons. And I love pink accessorized with black!
Next she has a weird stripey number for Cécile’s music recital:
The pink, white, and grey stripes aren’t bad themselves, and I think the puffy sleeves are going for something like this painting of Madame de Pompadour (which Dangerous Liaisons also referenced):
But the execution isn’t good:
Next we have this brownish or purpleish number, which I think is supposed to be Her Best Dress, because she wears it for some key, fancy scenes. It’s actually pretty shitty:
I admit I liked this stripey purple number, just because the fabric was really pretty. Clearly a very 18th-century-esque brocaded floral stripe:
Next we go back to pink for a super theatrical sort-of-robe à la française costume:
Then there’s the weird, super flat-front dress:
A quickie française worn at the opera:
Then there’s her randomly hanging out at home in an 1890s cheongsam. Clearly trying to reference 18th-century Orientalist lounging robes, like banyans. But, so wrong for this era. Especially with the hair, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
Finally, she wears some kind of black dresses to Valmont’s funeral and Cécile’s wedding, but you can’t really see them:
Poor, poor Colin Firth. Apparently he was young and new in his career. I’m sure he thought, “Yes! The director of Amadeus! This film is going to ROCK!” Little did he know…
I’m not going to go through all of Valmont’s costumes, just give you some general thoughts:
Cécile de Volanges
Played quite well by Fairuza Balk. She’s younger than Uma Thurman (same role in Dangerous Liaisons), so while the whole seduction by Valmont is played more lightly, it’s actually more creepy.
Her first real dress, worn to the opera:
At the music recital, she wears a stripey pink robe a l’anglaise with the skirts looped up:
Later she hangs with Merteuil in this light blue dress with red bows:
Then there’s her music lesson jacket, in which we can see some of the construction problems underlying many of these dresses:
Madame de Merteuil attempts to get Cécile and Danceny into bed by putting Cécile into a whooooore outfit:
Merteuil takes Cécile to the country to hang with Valmont and company. Cécile wears this:
Cécile wears this dusty pink taffeta française for a few scenes:
At Valmont’s funeral, she wears a dark blue moire jacket with a super Victorian capelet:
And finally, Cécile’s wedding dress:
Madame de Tourvel
Super sweet, super kind, very chaste and virtuous. Meg Tilly does a fine job with the role, nothing to complain about, although Michelle Pfeiffer has a special spark in Dangerous Liaisons that gives her the win.
When we first meet her, she’s wearing a dress very clearly inspired by another of Pompadour’s gowns:
For evenings, she wears this robe à la française:
She also has this dress, which she wears to a picnic with Valmont. I SHOULD love the fabric, but it’s so boring that not only did I refuse to screencap the back, I almost forgot to post it here:
In this version, Tourvel gets to live, so she visits Valmont’s grave in a nice black jacket with fur trim:
Madame de Volanges
Cécile’s mother is much less ditzy in this film version, although why she hangs with Merteuil, I have no idea.
She wears this grey pet-en-l’air in a few scenes:
For Cécile’s music recital, she wears a burgundy damask in a VERY 16th-century pattern with gold lace:
She worries about her daughter in this number, which is the best example I have of the weirdest fact: Madame de Volanges either has amazing boobs or is wearing proper stays. WHY is she the only character to 1) get proper underwear and 2) have her boobs out? Wouldn’t you want Merteuil, of all people, to look all hot and cleavage-y? I DON’T UNDERSTAND.
She gets pissy about Danceny in this stripey burgundy number:
She freaks out about her daughter, oh and goes to the opera, in this “bizarre” (as in pattern, not as in judgement) damask:
And finally, she Shows Merteuil at Cécile’s wedding in this blue and gold damask with lots of gold lace number:
Madame de Rosemonde
Valmont’s elderly aunt draws the short stick, as all of her costumes are DIRE.
First, you’ve got shitty acetate moire with unnecessary lace placement:
She goes to dinner in this monstrosity:
She lounges around the estate in this semi-decent stripey number:
Her mourning dress is acceptable, because you can’t really see it:
And she rocks a jewel-toned tricorn at Cécile’s wedding:
Finally, let’s talk hair/wigs:
But poor, POOR Colin Firth. He doesn’t get a “wig,” no doubt because the filmmakers thought we wouldn’t find him attractive. But he does wear a WIG, and it’s a doozy:
1) IT HAS BANGS:
Oh, and I thought you’d like to see:
Gercourt and Cécile get married in front of “The King” and “The Queen.” I thought you’d like to see them: