Marquis (1989) poster

Marquis (1989)


Belgium/France. 1989.


Director – Henri Xhonneux, Screenplay – Henri Xhonneux & Roland Topor, Based on the Writings of the Marquis de Sade, Photography – Etienne Fauduet, Music – Reinhardt Wagner, Special Effects – Leon Dutz, Production Design – Pierre-Francois Limbosch, Creature Design/Art Direction – Roland Topor, Masks Designed by Frederic & Jacques Gastineau. Production Company – Alligator Productions/Chin Chin/Constellation.


Francois Marthouret (Marquis), Valerie Kling (Colin), Michael Robin (Ambert), Isabelle Canet-Wolfe (Justine), Rene Lebrun (Gaetan de Preaubois), Vicky Messica (Dom Pompero)


A dog, the Marquis, has been imprisoned in The Bastille for his notoriously pornographic writings. He has conversations with Colin, his penis, who dislikes the Marquis’ writings. The rooster governor Gaetan de Preaubois discovers that the cow Justine is pregnant with the king’s child. To save the king embarrassment, de Preaubois and the Dom Pimpero conspire to have Justine placed in the Marquis’s cell where they can then claim the notoriously depraved libertine forced himself upon her. Instead, Justine is moved by the Marquis’s prose and the two fall for one another. Revolutionaries want to free the Marquis’s neighbour, the police chief Lupino who imprisoned the Marquis, and the Marquis agrees to give into the rat guard Ambert’s desire to be buggared for the good of the revolution. However, the Marquis finds difficulty persuading Colin to perform the task. At the same time, Dom Pimpero has discovered that he can make money by selling the Marquis’s pornographic writings without his knowledge, but has difficulty getting his hands on new material.

Marquis comes from the fertile mind of the late Belgian director, writer, novelist and theatrical director Roland Topor. Topor also co-wrote and designed the great French animated sf film Fantastic Planet (1973) and wrote the novel that became the basis of Roman Polanski’s marvellously paranoid The Tenant (1976). Topor can also be seen playing Renfield in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979).

Marquis could be described as a crossbreed between Quills (2000) and Meet the Feebles (1990). It is a re-enactment – albeit a loose one – of the life of the Marquis de Sade and the French Revolution – all conducted by puppets, puppets that are decidedly less than Disney or Henson-like. The fact that one of the central characters in the film is the Marquis’s talking penis should give one an idea of where the film is centred.

Marquis makes for fascinating comparison to Quills. Both cover essentially the same territory – the Marquis de Sade’s imprisonment. Although, where Quills is set around de Sade’s later imprisonment in the Charenton asylum, Marquis concerns itself with his earlier incarceration in The Bastille. It is historically inaccurate in that de Sade had been moved ten days prior to the Bastille’s storming, although there is the apocryphal claim that de Sade crying out the window from his cell, initially upset at being refused coffee by a guard, is what alerted and incited the crowds.

The Marquis converses with his penis Colin in Marquis (1989)
The imprisoned Marquis converses with his penis Colin

Both works get inside de Sade’s urge to write no matter what, using sheets and his own blood, although Marquis makes far less melodramatic fuss about the frustrated creative urge than Quills does. Both are also sympathetic portraits of de Sade – in fact, Marquis goes even further than Quills in seeing de Sade as essentially a peaceable man more interested in the letters than depravity. The film takes a Romantic position – in fact, a Manichean one – of a man of intellect and letters warring with his sexual drive (and even has an end when his penis takes off to find a life of its own). In truth though, the Marquis de Sade knew no such restraint, felt no such war between mind and flesh. His work could not be regarded as something pure and aside from his baser urges – his urges plainly overran his work, it was construed as pornography simple and unadulterated.

Marquis has a literate script in its satiric take on the Revolution. Where it succeeds the most is in the outrageous joy of its obscene puppets. (Although these are not puppets so much as they are actors wearing animal heads, not unakin to a pantomime version of The Wind in the Willows [1908]). The faces are surprisingly fluid and expressive. There are some outrageously entertaining scenes like where the Marquis fucks a hole in a talking wall with his penis; or where he buggars a guard with a lobster; or of the guard masturbating milk from the cow heroine’s udders. There are animated visions of a spider becoming an octet of spread female thighs, or a coffin going into the ground becoming an outrageous image of it fucking the Earth. Scabrous, brilliant, a classic.

The idea of puppets doing adult things had earlier been conducted by Let My Puppets Come (1976), a pornographic film featuring puppets, and subsequently with The Happytime Murders (2018) from Jim Henson’s son.

Trailer here

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