July 13, 1808 at the Charenton Insane Asylum just outside Paris. The inmates of the asylum are mounting their latest theatrical production, written and produced by who is probably the most famous inmate of the facility, the Marquis de Sade. The asylum’s director, M. Coulmier, a supporter of the current French regime led by Napoleon, encourages this artistic expression as therapy for the inmates, while providing the audience – the aristocracy – a sense that they are being progressive in inmate treatments. Coulmier as the master of ceremonies, his wife and daughter in special places of honor, and the cast, all of whom are performing the play in the asylum’s bath house, are separated from the audience by prison bars. The play is a retelling of a period in the French Revolution culminating with the assassination exactly fifteen years earlier of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat by peasant girl, Charlotte Corday. The play is to answer whether Marat was a friend or foe to the people of France. …
User Reviews: MARAT/SADE is the film version of a play that arose from an actor’s workshop exploring various theatrical theories expressed by French actor-director-writer Antoine Artard, who extolled a style of performance he described as "theatre of cruelty"–which, broadly speaking, consists of an assault upon the audience’s senses by every means possible. Ultimately, and although it makes effective use of its setting and the cinematography mirrors the chaos expected of such a situation, the film version of MARAT/SADE is less a motion picture than a record of a justly famous stage play that offers a complex statement re man’s savagery.
The story of MARAT/SADE concerns the performance of a play by inmates of an early 1800s insane asylum, with script and direction by the infamous Marquis de Sade. (While this may sound a bit far-fetched, it is based on fact: de Sade was known to have written plays for performance by inmates during his own incarceration in an asylum.) The story of the play concerns the assassination of the revolutionary Marat by Charotte Corday, but the play itself becomes a debate between various characters, all of which may be read as in some way intrinsically destructive and evil. Since all the characters are played by mentally-ill inmates of the asylum (the actor playing Marat, for example, is described as a paranoid, and the actress playing Corday suffers from sleeping sickness and melancholia), the debate is further fueled by their insanity, unpredictability as performers, and the staff’s reactions to both their behavior and the often subversive nature of the script they play out.
Patrick Magee as de Sade, Glenda Jackson as the inmate playing Corday (it was her breakout performance), and Ian Richardson as the inmate playing Marat offering impressive performances; indeed, the ensemble cast as a whole is incredibly impressive, and they keep the extremely wordy script moving along with considerable interest. Even so, it will be obvious that the material works better as a live performance than as a film, and I do not recommend it to a casual viewer; its appeal will be largely limited to the literary and theatrical intelligentsia. The DVD includes the original theatrical trailer, but beyond this there are no extras of any kind.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer