[Film Review] Chéri (2009)

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Title: Chéri
Year: 2009
Country: UK, France, Germany
Language: English, French, Latin, Italian
Genre: Romance, Comedy, Drama
Director: Stephen Frears
Writer: Christopher Hampton
based on the novels by Colette
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
Editor: Lucia Zucchetti
Michelle Pfeiffer
Rupert Friend
Kathy Bates
Felicity Jones
Frances Tomelty
Tom Burke
Nichola Mcauliffe
Iben Hjejle
Anita Pallenberg
Harriet Walter
Rollo Weeks
Jack Walker
Gaye Brown
Toby Kebbell
Bette Bourne
Rating: 6.5/10

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A cinematic reification of Colette’s belle époque novel CHÉRI, viewers can rest assured that its period glamor is superbly captured in the safe hands of Stephen Frears, who has a knack to sate our ocular desire of sumptuous costumes and scenic divinity, here aided by Alexandre Desplat’s euphonious accompaniment. Elsewhere, the magnificent Michelle Pfeiffer gives a thoroughly self-reflective dissection of being a cradle-snatcher with stunning aplomb, lucidity and poignancy.

Tapping into the May-December romance between a bloom-is-off-the-rose former Parisian courtesan Léa de Lonval (Pfeiffer), and a shiftless trustafarian (avant la lettre) Fred “Chéri” Peloux, the decades-younger son of her quondam-rival-present-friend Charlotte Peloux (Bates), CHÉRI is headily permeated with a waft of faux-insouciance from the beginning, the initiation of their mutual attraction is prompted by Charlotte’s solicitation of Léa to rid Chéri of debauchery and malaise (and it turns out Léa is a perfect remedy for that purpose), to the time when they put a kibosh on their 6-years-long “casual romance”, in the wake of Chéri pending marriage with an 18-year-old Edmée (an underutilized Felicity Jones), daughter of another former file de joie.

The undertow only surfaces in the aftermath, both sense a void caused by each other’s absence, while Chéri and Edmée head to their honeymoon in Italy, Léa finds temporary solace in the arm of a young beefcake during her sojourn in Biarritz, but absence makes the heart grow fonder. In Léa’s case, what distinguishes Chéri’s allure is his buttoned-up mystique (sometimes can be veiled by vacuity), and a tacit understanding (he knows her line-of-work perfectly well) which leavens their relationship with a rather relaxing overlay, for Léa, that can be lethally seductive; as for Chéri, he is an emblematic mama’s boy, Léa represents a dyadic entity with motherly affection and amorous passion, it is a jones he simply cannot quit on his own volition.

Respective resolution is conceived by each when they meet again on their home turf, Léa, after realizing Chéri is the love of her life, looks forward to an elope, whereas Chéri naively wants to have the cake and eat it as well, his realization that Léa is the one will only strike him latterly (confirmed by Frears’ own voiceover in the epilogue, seals his unfortunate fate), which Léa presciently discerns and ascribes to their massive age difference, then calls off their entanglement as a last-ditch proposition to elicit Chéri’s response, but foreshadowed by his giveaway reaction to a horrid cameo presence of Anita Pallenberg, the answer is very much in evidence, no amount of wisdom can offset that image of furrows creeping on a woman’s face in a young man’s mind, Léa has to learn it the hard way.

Apart from a heads-turning Michelle Pfeiffer and a prime Rupert Friend whose curly charm might not be everyone’s cuppa, the one-and-the-only Kathy Bates, although some hefty suspended disbelief is requisite to credit her as Pfeiffer’s chief rival in her heyday, steals many a scene in her underhanded barbs and visible delight in earning the one-upmanship athwart a poised Pfeiffer, while both dressed to the nines in Charlotte’s exotic and luxuriant conservatory, a curio at you own peril to savor.

referential entries: Frears’ DANGEROUS LIAISONS (1988, 6.4/10), VICTORIA & ABDUL (2017, 6.3/10); Martin Scorsese’s THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993, 7.9/10); Wash Westmoreland’s COLETTE (2018, 7.3/10).

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