Outrageous. That’s the best word I can think of to describe what has to be the most original pseudo-biopic ever committed to celluloid – the 1989 French film, Marquis. In this instance, the worthy depicted is the Marquis De Sade. What makes the film truly interesting is the fact that the characters portrayed, including the titular character, are done so via actors wearing animatronic animal heads, which gives it an Animal Farm-like feel. The outrageous part? Where else will you see a movie in which an elegantly dressed dog creates puppet shows and holds philosophical discourse with his own talking penis?
It would have been very easy for the filmmakers to rest on the shock factor of that conceit, but where Marquis really pays off is in the deft characterizations and mannerisms of each individual character, whether he or she be a rat, a camel, a rooster, a horse or a cow. And whereas it would be very easy to succumb to the creep factor such animatronic heads present, the fact that each character is perfectly realized, through gestures and even the way they walk, overcomes those vibes.
But don’t get me wrong, this is no Muppet Show. If anything, it has more in common with Peter Jackson’s pre-Lord Of The Rings grotesquerie Meet The Feebles. It is, in a word, gloriously perverse, but what would you expect from a film that purports to bring one of the most depraved dilettantes history has to offer to life? From a rat-faced jailer whose only real wish is to be “buggered” by the nobleman, to a leather strapped equine dominatrix, the film revels in the deviant and the sinful. A virtual smorgasbord of historical perversion. Oh, and it’s in French, with English subtitles. So… there’s that…
The story itself is a convoluted stroll through the machinations of the French Revolution, complete with corrupt politicians, scheming ecclesiastics and bored noblemen beguiled into plots to overthrow the king. But that’s just the backdrop against which this heretical film casts its shadow plays, with some of the titular character’s most famous fictional creations made flesh to accompany him in his philosophical quest for… Truth? Identity? To be left alone? To be honest I’m not really sure. All I do know is his penis, named Colin, thinks he’s a dreadful bore and spends a lot of time telling him so.
All of which makes Marquis sound like some sort of Russ Meyer sexploitation vehicle, which it most definitely is not. What separates this film from porn is its farcical nature. There isn’t anything even remotely sexy about a talking penis, a cow being forcibly milked or a rat being buggered by a lobster. Think about it. If anything it’s a bizarre anthropological study of the aberrant sexual behavior of anthropomorphized beasts. An Animal Farm allegory in French silks. A more cultured, if less civil, Island Of Doctor Moreau, if you will.
I don’t know how much more I can say, except I’ve probably seen this movie three or four times since it was released on VHS in 1999 by First Run Features. It never fails to amuse me with its curious mix of satire and bawdiness. Because there is really nothing else quite like it out there, it will no doubt always hold a special place in my indecorous heart. For reasons I don’t quite understand, it has never been released on DVD, but hopefully its time will come. Who knows, maybe the Furrie community will pick up on it…
In the meantime, a couple of very low-rez versions can be found posted on YouTube if you just type in ‘Marquis 1989.’ I’m attaching one below, but who knows how long it will be available. Not the best quality, but if you’re already accustomed to watching movies on your iPhone, watching the Marquis on YouTube won’t be much of a stretch. I’d suggest checking it out soon, because it can’t be long before some sanctimonious moron flags it as inappropriate and the YouTube police decide to yank it back into the void of the cinematically anomalistic and aberrant. Again.