The Melancholies of Sade The Movie

film Marquis de Sade

Donatien de Sade

film Marquis de Sade

Donatien-Alphonse-François de Sade was born in Paris on the 2nd June 1740. He was the heir of an old and prestigious aristocratic family in Provence. At the age of 14, he joined a military school reserved for the sons of the oldest nobility and was promoted to sub-lieutenant a year later, and took part in the Seven Years’ War against Prussia. It was there that he excelled by demonstrating his courage as well as his taste for debauchery.

On May the 17th 1763, he married Mademoiselle de Montreuil who came from a younger but equally wealthy nobility. The same year he went to prison for the first time for “outraged debaucheries”. There were celebrations and balls in his provencal estate in Lacoste. He traveled around Italy, with his sister-in-law Mlle de Launay whom he ended up falling in love with. In Marseille in 1772, he was accused of poisoning and had to run away to Savoie. He had in fact distributed aphrodisiac pills to four whores during an orgy and one of them became sick. Condemned to death in abstentia he was arrested, but managed to escape. He was eventually arrested in Paris. Despite his wifes’ interventions he spent thirteen years in prison, first in the dungeons of Vincennes and then in the Bastille.

During these years, Sade began to write subversive tales, novels and theater plays, a number of which weren’t published until the 20th century. He finally regained his freedom, which was granted to every victim of “lettres de cachet”, in 1790. However his wife, who had grown tired of his acts of violence, left him. In order to survive in revolutionary Paris, with his properties in Provence being looted and impound, he attempted to stage productions of his plays. It was then that he made friends with a young actress, Marie Constance Quesnet, who ended up staying faithful to him until the end.

In 1801, the police seized all of his published works. His erotic violence, his “frenzy of deviousness”, and his pornography had not been forgiven. Without a trial, but by a simple administrative decision, he was admitted to Charenton lunatic asylum. Despite his petitions and protests he ultimately died there on December the 1st 1814 without having ever regained his freedom. This free minded 74 year old man ended up spending almost 30 years of his life in prison.

His descendant refuses to hold the title of Marquis and the works in which Sade paved the way towards modern sexual psychology were not “restored to favour” until the middle of the 20th century.

film Marquis de Sade

Screenplay, choosen extracts


The screen is black.

We establish, barely lit by a flickering candlelight, the face of a man leant over a sheet of paper with a quill in his hand.
We hear the thunder rumbling outside, and from within a slight hubbub of shouts and pleas. Some bells are ringing, and then, in the foreground, the sound of the quill hitting the paper.
The camera rises to show the face of a man who slowly looks up, as if he is aware of a presence around him; he almost gives a glance to the camera. Again, his face shows that same expression as the one of the mummified dead in the prologue. It is the same mischievous face that is often associated with Sade.
As the camera goes down, Sade begins to write again.

SADE (voiceover) :
« Only in the darkness of the tombs can man find quiet, that the cruelty of his peers, the disorder of his passions and more than anything the fate of his lot will be refused if eternally on earth. »

Fade to black.


A piece of land, the landscape covered by the evening mist, water lapping, a rowing boat, two figures, the sun is setting and it is twilight - the wolf hour -, the moment the day becomes night.
We hear the sound of the boat gliding over the water. The boat goes along the banks of the calm lake. We move closer, the figures on the boat gradually become clearer, the music begins to sharpen and the sound starts to change. The figures on the boat are now identified: we can see Juliette’s thick hair and the Marquis de Sade at the helm, obscured by the same hood seen in the first shot of the film.

The camera pulls away from the boat, which becomes lost in the fog.

JULIETTE (off, in a low voice, fearful of making too much noise) :
The island is bigger than it seemed. How will we find Monsieur Rousseau in this fog ? It’s so thick that you could cut it with a knife !

The boat seems to be lost in the waters and for a split second, it completely disappears.

SADE (off) :
Everything is in the "Reveries of a Solitary Walker". During the day, he collects plants and herbs, and when the evening arrives, he comes down from the peaks of the island. He comes down to sit on the side of the lake, in some hidden refuge on the shore. There, the sound of the waves and the agitation of the water immerses him into a "delicious" dream.

Again, the camera slowly comes closer, and then disappears intermittently. In terms of the sound, the first birds of the night begin to stir and they form one body and one voice with the frogs. A sort of fairy tale begins to occur amongst the nature.

SADE (a low voiceover) :
With the ebb and flow of the water, its continuous but occasionally swollen noise hitting him without respite, the dream begins to immerse him and he feels a sense of being alive and free from thought !

The rowing boat slowly gets closer to the shore and as it brushes against the bank, we can see a hiding place.
The Marquis, somehow or other, brings the little boat to a standstill. It sits idle amongst the water. We can hear the quiet noises of the gentle waves, of the ebb and flow, and Juliette and Donatien appear to be, at this moment, completely bewitched.
The boat sets off again and is guided by the sounds of Jean-Jacques’ dream. A dark mass takes shape on the bank.
Docking the boat is tricky and it ends up slightly away from Jean-Jacques. To reassure Rousseau, the Marquis calls to him as soon as his foot reaches the land. At the same time, he helps Juliette off the boat. Everything is filmed at a distance from the docking place.

Good evening Monsieur Rousseau, I am the Count of Mazan. Let me introduce you to Juliette!

ROUSSEAU (in a friendly manner) :
Good evening, what can I do for you my dear friends ?

Juliette is clearly annoyed by such goodwill and the hypocrisy of the Marquis.

We are returning from Italy, and we have made a considerable detour in order to have the honour of meeting the author of The New Heloise" !

It is as much an honour for me... Can I join you on the boat ? Are you returning to the south of the island ?

Sade agrees. They jump on the boat. Jean-Jacques puts down his bag which is overflowing with herbs.
On the boat, we see Sade and Juliette sat on one side and Rousseau on the other.



The music from the previous sequence continues during the first shot of Renée Pélagie.
The sequence opens with a close up of her face, and she seems determined to not let Sade out of her sight. We follow Sade through the eyes of Renée.

SADE (off) :
No, I don’t think it is possible to find in the world a more abominable creature than your unworthy mother !

Calm down! Now do not write anything that could compromise you.

Sade is stood and, wearing with pride, the plum jacket his wife has just brought him.

Ah ! Monster! Oh, the abominable creature !...
How I hate her ! Why can’t she understand my love for you ? How does the sky not tire of leaving such a fury on earth for so long !

You don’t mean that !

We notice that behind them the door is still open. During the visit the jailer has stayed on guard. Sade recovers his composure. For the whole time, Renée has remained seated.

I have to speak the truth, which is that I know you don’t really mean any of these words. What you’ve written has been influenced by your pain and your despair. But it seems to me that everyone judges you purely based on your writing. So do not write any more of these sentences that do nothing but jeopardise you...
It is my endless desire to be with you that influences my writing !... That is the truth.

Sade adjusts the sleeves and the shoulders of his jacket and glances at his wife for approval. She silently agrees and he continues.

You say my way of thinking cannot be approved. But it doesn’t matter! Anyone who adopts a way of thinking that isn’t intended for them is clearly mad! My way of thinking is the fruit of my reflection; it is made by my existence and my understanding. This way of thinking that you criticize is the sole comfort in my life; it alleviates all my sorrow in prison, it makes up all my pleasures in the world and I’m more attached to it than I am to my own life. It is not my way of thinking that has created my misfortune, but the way of thinking that belongs to others...

Renée in a close-up, is clearly moved by her husband’s words.

I know, and I love you with all my heart, and nothing can fully express how I feel. You could break my heart and I wouldn’t stop loving you, and it saddens me to think you have any doubts about how I feel. Any time you doubt the power of my love, my heart does nothing but ache.

Sade, as a consolation, sits down next to Renée.

I do respect your tastes and fantasies. As strange as they are, I respect them, because ultimately they are uncontrollable. And even your most unique and unusual fantasies do have some sense of finesse to them...

Sade runs his hands over Renée’s face.

The customs and traditions in our way of life come from the structure and organization of our society. All we have to do is avoid spreading our venom outside, so much so that not only do we stop people around us from suffering, but we make it so they can’t even notice it.

Renée, not unlike a cat, rubs her face against the Marquis’ hand.

Everything that you have said is firmly set in my mind, but others have a strange way of thinking which we will suffer from. They think that by remaining a follower and disciple for long enough you will eventually become an icon. They don’t understand the damage it does, to you, and to your fortune, and to your children.
Whenever these fools criticize my work, it fills me with such anger. So much so that I wish I could grab them all by their heads and hit them against the wall until they change their minds.

Renée straightens and turns towards her husband. The Marquis is still clearly annoyed but for a moment appears to be touched by her !

You know, I am not as kind as you when I think of the torture I would wish upon them...

Renée straightens and surreptitiously blocks herself against the Marquis. The sound of the note of the Tango, an exchange of glances, and a few dance steps, switching between violence and melancholy.
The scene ends as abruptly as it began.

Fade to black.