‘Marquis’ is the only film I’ve ever seen by the oddly-named Henri Xhonneux, but it’s so imaginative and entertaining that I’m eager to see more of his work. ‘Marquis’ alleges to be based on incidents in the life and novels of the Marquis de Sade. If you’re seeking a “Cliff Notes” crib-sheet about de Sade or his works, look elsewhere. On its own merits, though, this film is highly enjoyable for those with a taste for the bizarre. Some of the activities of the real-life Marquis de Sade were downright contemptible, but I intensely admire the tremendous efforts he took to write down his prose in prison (where he was forbidden to possess paper or writing implements) and to smuggle his text out of prison for publication. I was intrigued to learn that the Marquis was a prisoner in the Bastille until only a few days before it was captured by the revolutionaries in 1789; it now appears that de Sade actively fomented the riot of Bastille Day, shouting to the people outside that there were weapons and allies within the prison.IMDb lists ‘Marquis’ as an animated film, but that’s only partly accurate. The animation occurs chiefly in the sequences in which the Marquis de Sade has long heart-to-heart talks with his own penis! The penis has a small human face (upturned, oddly) and a voice and personality of its own. All the characters in this film are anthropomorphised animals, walking upright and played by human dancers in elaborate costumes and masks. (I thought these were even more impressive than the ones used in the Beatrix Potter ballet film.) Thus, for example, de Sade’s Justine is a white mare, dressed in a dominatrix costume which displays her very shapely human figure! Juliette is a cow, only slightly less pulchritudinous than Justine. The characters’ dialogue is post-dubbed by voice artists, and the credits generously list both the performers who embody the characters and the voice artists on the soundtrack.
The filmmakers cleverly match the personalities of the various characters to appropriate animal species. Still, I was pulled up short by one scene in a coffee-house. More than a dozen species of land-based animals are interacting, and then into the room walks a fish! Somehow, it felt wrong to see an aquatic species among the land beasties. Thankfully, all of the voice artists speak normally, rather than trying to moo or whinny their dialogue. The Marquis spends most of the film in prison, where he is harangued by his warder: a rat who is obsessed with being buggered by the Marquis. (He is apparently unaware that the Marquis’s penis has its own thoughts on this matter.) I found the rat character implausible: as a warder, unlike his inmates he can go home at night and find sexual release outside the prison. There’s lots of hearty comedy here, not all of it sexual … but the sexual content is deeply aberrant throughout the film, so ‘Marquis’ is not for all audiences. The animal costumes are so intensely detailed that there’s an atmosphere of bestiality throughout this sexually-charged comedy.