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During France's belle époque before World War I, elegant cars, mansions, and servants defined the lives of les grandes horizontals, the courtesans of kings and millionaires. One of the most successful, Lea de Lonval, is approaching a certain age when an older associate, Charlotte Peloux, asks Lea to take on her 19 year old son, whom Lea has called Chéri since he was a child. They become lovers and, to their surprise, the relationship lasts six years. When it ends abruptly with a marriage his mother arranges to the daughter of another courtesan, Lea finds herself miserable. Has she fallen in love? If so, do she -- and Chéri - have any choices? Written by
In the closing credits, 'thanks' are given to France's national railway, the Societe National Chemin de Fer, known as the "SNCF". However the credits have the letters out of sequence, calling it the "SCNF". See more »
We may think ourselves familiar in this day and age with the notion that whores of every description can very easily achieve fame and fortune. But towards the end of the 19th century, there what came to be known in France as the "Belle Epoque", a select group of courtesans, who became for a short period, the most celebrated and powerful women in the long history of prostitution.
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A rapture of visual, audio and cinematic emotional brilliance all tied with a killer last line. What a wonder is set before the viewer when one enters the world of "Cheri". The visual richness of this parfait of the Belle Epoch is breathtaking from the rich creamy art neuveau architecture to the gloriously realized costumes of the early 20th century. What they only indicated in "Titanic" of the same period costumes. Explodes in luxury and in a sense informs the eye to the scene at hand and seems less costume than authentic clothing. As Cinema "Cheri" succeeds as more than an adaptation of a Collette novel but becomes a world unto it's own. Here we are presented with some of our finest female performers at the top of their game. In short I am speaking of Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates. As former courtesan rivals who are now aging friends they come together to define the last part of their lives and the beginning of Bates' son's life in a remarkable way. Kathy Bates goes deep into the complexities of her mix of comedy and nuanced drama in the same way she did with Annie Wilkes. Not to say that the characters of Annie and Madame Peloux are anything alike. But Miss Bates takes this role to a superior level while all the while not letting you see her do her magic. She is just THERE! The scene where her face decays from a radioactively sunny laugh to reveal her true deepest disgust her spoiled soul is priceless. Then there is Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea de Lonval, at fifty one she may be older that the literary Lea but she has never been more luminous or nearly goddess like. To look at her is to look upon a woman of a certain age that is ageless in her embrace of times changing hands upon her face. But there is more. This may be the pinnacle of her career, the role of her lifetime. She is Lea in so many levels both within her acting and in a sense as an actress. She is stunning and brings forth the soul of a great character as only our finest actors can. But all of this would seem a delightful trifle, a light story of an aging courtesan and her young lover if it were not for the narration that gives the film added depth and gravitas. I asked a friend today what he thought of the final outcome of the story. Of what the narrator reveals of what became of Cheri. He tossed it off lightly and said that it seemed an after thought. He could not have been more wrong. He missed the whole point of the film. The last lines of the film that tell us of the ultimate fate of Lea and Cheri are what give this film an emotional strength, irony, and ultimately heart wrenching tragedy. It is the final twist set into a stunning jewel of a film that is as captivating and spellbinding as Lea's mysterious emerald ring.
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