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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
Iben Hjejle was personally called up by director Stephen Frears and didn't know she was going to star opposite big Hollywood names before she began filming her first scene. See more »
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 "ballet park", 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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While I thought the idea of the movie interesting--a May/December romance with Lea, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, being much older--it was distasteful that Michelle's character was like an aunt to the nineteen-year-old Cheri, played by Rupert Friend. There was a hint that Cheri's mother, Kathy Bates (who I always love), wanted the affair to occur to keep Cheri out of trouble. That seemed a bit creepy. As for the romance, there was no chemistry between Lea and Cheri, and no character development for Cheri, even though the movie was named for him. He remained sullen, brooding, immature and amazingly dull, although I don't blame Rupert Friend for the performance. I think the script, direction and editing were to blame, if not the story itself. The love scenes were tasteful but not believable. The pair were together for six years, but the relationship didn't seem to have love or even lust at its core, just a boredom being filled with champagne and satin sheets. Michelle was the reason my rating was a 3 rather than a 1. She did a good job with what she had to work with and I was invested in her character. However, the character was ultimately a disappointment. I think we were supposed to come away with an experience of a slice of French culture (courtesans) during La Belle Epoque, but it didn't work. I was stunned to see a car pull up to a country house; it seemed out of place. The director had no idea how to set the time and place properly. The overlong verbal narration at the beginning and end of the movie was not only annoying (I hate being told what should be shown) but it didn't tell us things helpful to the story. The voice-over at the end was particularly awful because Cheri's entire life's arc was given three sentences. If they had edited that out, I may have been able to nudge my rating to a 5.
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