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Almost romance

Almost romance

When art meets science

Who: Maarten Doorman, Philosopher at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

What: Dangerous Liaisons, by Stephen Frears

Target group: students of Arts and Social Sciences/UCM

In aristocratic France just before the French revolution, viscount de Valmont (John Malkovich) wants to reconquer his ex-lover, Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close). She sets a condition: he must first seduce a God-fearing woman who is about to be married. That is a summary of the plot of Dangerous Liaisons, a film by Stephen Frears from 1988, based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos from 1782. “Extremely well done, Frears steers close to the book, which is very difficult because the novel is written in the form of a series of letters,” says philosopher Maarten Doorman. “The acting is brilliant, the spirit of the time is well set out, the costumes are fantastic, and it is very witty.”

But, according to Doorman, what makes the film particularly interesting is the picture of the clash between two views of mankind. “On the threshold of the romantic era (in which the film is set) philosopher Rousseau tells people the difference between who they are and how they behave. He finds that difference regrettable, because everyone should be as authentic as possible. That was a strange way of thinking for people in those days. For them it was normal to play a role. One should do that as well as possible, they never thought more about it. The tension between the two notions runs through the entire film, even more so than in the book. Since Rousseau, we look at ourselves.”

The characters in Dangerous Liaisons also play roles. “The film opens with a scene in which De Valmont and De Merteuil are being dressed, made up and have their hair groomed. It is as if they are knights putting on their armour before a tournament. The fact that they become aware that they are playing themselves, makes this film a kind of essay on acting.”

Doorman uses the film during his lectures. “The film poses a number of questions about something very basic: who we are. Because we live in what I call the romantic order, we try to be ‘ourselves’. But just look at Facebook. People present themselves as spontaneous and nice, but in the meantime they know very well that they are playing a role. It is a construction of your own authenticity. That is a paradox that even young children understand today, whereas before Rousseau nobody thought about it.”

In this column lecturers recommend art that throws a different light on their field than textbooks do

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