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
When the project was in development during the 1990s, Jessica Lange planned to star as Léa de Lonval. 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 "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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I think this commentary does not do justice to the complexity of the tale.
Cheri's courtesan mother was loving and cheerful? She was no more fit to be a mother than my arm is for the wing of an airplane. Cheri was orphaned from the beginning because of his mother's profession as well as the usual self-preoccupation of such great beauties. When she saw fit, she arranged a loveless and mercenary marriage for him. The withering realism of this tale about the egotism and cruelty in almost all human relationships is only masked and made palatable by the sparkling wit it is mixed with.
The movie is by no means perfect, but there is a lot to explore. I would not write off Colette and Pfeiffer without attending with a bit more care.
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