Dangerous Liaisons could have explored the teenage psyche in the days of the Instagram frenzy, but the hawks just clicked teenybopper mush.
Instagram Stories replace letters at the heart of the plot, and late 18th century French nobility are replaced by today’s high school teenagers as the protagonists, in this teen retelling of Pierre’s epistolary novel Choderlos de Laclos Dangerous relationshipsoriginally published in 1782. The socio-cultural makeover is a particular fit as the film blends the novel’s old-fashioned formula of love, deceit, guilt, and revenge with the new-age obsession with fame. social media, often driven by cruelty, desperation and a complete lack of morality.
Laclos’ novel found perspective in its exploration of the depravity among the French nobility as the French Revolution approached. The film attempts to set up a similar context while telling the stories of young people whose lives revolve around social media updates. The idea seems fascinating as the film underlines its leitmotif in the face of the novel, with the voice-over of one of the main actors, telling how, 200 years ago, making a name meant having royal blood and 20 years ago it meant being loaded, and how today you could be noble or rich and still be a loser unless you find glory. “Once you’ve tasted it, you’ll do anything to keep it, even if it kills you,” sums up the voiceover of Tristan, the story’s male protagonist.
High school student Tristan, played by Simon Rerolle, is an Instagram star and the “king” of Biarritz, a town where young locals revere him as a celebrity. A famous surfer who aims to one day be a world champion in the sport, Tristan has painted a picture-perfect love story online with local ‘queen’ Vanessa (Ella Pellegrini), a former child star who, too, is a social media sensation now. It’s a heady world that writer-director Rachel Suissa and co-writer Slimane-Baptiste Berhoun have set up, a world where the king and queen, barely 17, together have 10 million subscribers, live in castles and can afford to bet their Range Rovers and beach houses. The duo have a penchant, by the way, for making outrageous bets with each other, which keeps them going viral.
The story takes off with Célène (Paola Locatelli), a Parisian who arrives in Biarritz to attend a new school, where she finds herself classmate with Tristan, Vanessa and other key players in the plot including cousin Charlotte ( Heloise Janjaud). Celene is an anomaly, therefore an object of intrigue among the school crowd. Daughter of a renowned Parisian theater director, she is a bookworm who prefers to meet with Proust in a limited edition in a corner during a frenzied evening, and who has no idea what it means a verified account on Instagram. She advocates love, marriage, virginity and the need for fidelity to a single lifelong partner. When Vanessa meets Celene at a party, she comes across a naughty great idea for a new bet. She challenges Tristan to seduce the idealistic Célène within a given time frame, and trick her into cheating on her Parisian boyfriend.
The problem of adapting a literary work that has already had half a dozen cinematic remakes in the past – including Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and cruel intentions (1999) in Hollywood — is that the story doesn’t seem new after all these decades. Suissa’s premise seems cliche because it sets up the Tristan-Celene-Vanessa equation that forms the heart of the plot. Teenage alpha Tristan surprisingly won’t meet initial resistance from Celene, who seems mature beyond her years as he tries to get into her good books anyhow, even though Vanessa predictably emerges the classic “vamp” beyond her image of flawlessness. as a celebrity.
Imagining the basic story of Laclos in the context of social media naturally aimed to give this revisit a fresh look. The construction works well when we enter the campus with Celene. It’s an interesting milieu where the king and queen dominate above all else, they are the elite who run an unspoken class system beneath them, using their popularity as a weapon to control their classmates and “fans”. The “royal couple” have a whole “court” of knights, vassals, even jesters, to back up their social media popularity on campus. The construction is interesting because Suissa gives us details about this society, where a social media millionaire queen has lived alone in her own castle since the age of 15, when, on discovering that her parents were taking all her money, she legal divorce. and deliberately sends them to live in a houseboat because they get seasick. It’s a world where mothers are obsessed with seeing their children become famous, more than the child himself. The script also introduces humor, while highlighting the sexual confusion a 17-year-old can have, through Charlotte’s line after a drunken night of partying: “I’ve never had a boyfriend before, I’ve never had a girlfriend before…and now I have both and I don’t know which one to choose!” Suissa saves one of the wittiest sequences for an end credits scene where, “by the powers bestowed on one person by beapriestonline.com,” the film makes a serious case for “threesome harmony” to be officially celebrated. The handsome cast delivers adequately, and the film highlights the dark side of social media stardom. is interesting. In one scene, Vanessa threatens to ruin Tristan’s career. “I don’t care, I’m done,” he replies in a tired voice. The scene is an ominous reminder of the process of burnout. that a social media celebrity is likely to experience at some time nt given.
Yet history goes nowhere with such ideas. The film could have been much more of an exploration of the teenage psyche in the age of social media, but the narrative chooses to use that backdrop to set up a teenybopper mush that barely goes beyond the mundane. By the time Tristan plays the obligatory cliche of saving Celene from an accident (in this case, drowning), this melodrama about a virgin girl and a bad boy has become too commonplace for you to care much.
It’s a good fare if you like anything with a teenybopper flavor, but that’s about it. Somehow, Cruel Intentions, made all those decades ago, still seems like a more exciting ride.
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Dangerous Liaisons is streaming on Netflix
Vinayak Chakravorty is a Delhi-NCR based film critic, columnist and journalist.
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