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You can't really tell as far as Stephen Frears is concerned. After the sensational "The Queen" another film that is only slightly more tolerable than the dreadful "Mrs Henderson Presents" Here Rupert Friend in the title role is a delightful throwback to Oscar Wilde territory. You understand Pfeiffer loosing her head for him but not why he looses his for her. She's certainly beautiful but lifeless. She looks more distant than ever, struggling to find the tone of her performance and I'm afraid she never does. Not a glimpse of the Pfeiffer from "The Age Of Innocence" or even "The Fabulous Baker Boys" No sense of period or of intention. Kathy Bates is an annoying over the top caricature but Ruper Friend is the oasis that makes the aridity of this nonsense truly bearable. I had seen him before, most remarkably, in another story with another older woman, Joan Plowright in "Mrs Palfrey At The Claremont" He is an actor with, clearly, a few aces up his sleeve and I bet he will dazzle us with other surprises in the future. Here he's badly served by his director, co-stars costume designer, make up and hair and in spite of that he emerges as the only reason to see this film.
Stephen Frears has created some powerful and very well crafted movies:
'Dangerous Liaisons', 'My Beautiful Laundrette', 'The Grifters', 'The
Queen', 'Prick up your Ears', 'Dirty Pretty Things', etc. One would
expect that his experience in dealing with edgy issues would make him
the perfect choice for adapting the famous French writer of 'naughty
novels' - Colette - but somewhere in the flow of this production,
perhaps in the Christopher Hampton's adaptation of the novel to
screenplay, the original stories become perfumed and sanitized. And the
reasons why this happened remain obscure.
The story is simple: courtesans in Paris must eventually retire form their lives of becoming wealthy through pleasing men of the higher class, and either they live out their lives in the luxuries of fluff or they must confront their aging and feel pangs of remorse as they end their lives alone, without a man to bolster them. Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been longtime 'friends' with Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates), even to the point of nurturing Madame's son Chéri (Rupert Friend) as he approaches manhood. Madame asks Lea to 'polish' Chéri for other women and after what might have been a brief fling in Normandy, the young Chéri and the aging Lea fall into a six year relationship. But as Madame realizes she needs grandchildren, she eventually finds a proper girl Edmee (Felicity Jones) for Chéri to marry. The remainder of the story is how these two age-disparate characters adapt to the 'social rules' of La Belle Epoque, suggesting that even under extraordinary circumstances the power of love is an issue that must be confronted.
Despite the performances by Pfeiffer and Friend (and even the miscast Bates) the story feels somehow sterile. Perhaps it is the out of place use of a male narrator who gives the film an unnecessary feeling of being a documentary, or the somewhat overused musical score of Alexandre Desplat, or the emphasis on costumes that hardly add to the beauty of Pfeiffer as Lea that keep the production grounded. It is a pleasant enough film, but hardly a memorable one. Grady Harp
"Cheri" is the nickname given by Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) to the young,
much younger Fred, whom she brings to discover the truth about
lovemaking, and unintentionally but inevitably, about loving. The actor
playing Fred is handsome, attractive, but who really hits the sign (as
usually, I would say) is Michelle Pfeiffer, who proved to be very
courageous in playing a role where she constantly repeats to herself
how old she is. Indeed, her beauty, elegance and refinement are always
there to remind her and us how difficult it is to come to terms with
ageing, mainly when beauty has been the very essence of your life.
The plot is almost absent, being the story more based on emotions, moods, sensations, rather than facts, and the movie in the end manages to capture the viewer, thanks to its capability to render the emotional side through glances and through effective and intense framing of both characters and situations: the last one is incisive, almost paralyzing.
Ironic and funny moments are not absent, mainly when Cathy Bates, playing the odd, high spirited mother, enters the scene, but the overall tone is a melancholic one, above all for the female public, we cannot but sympathize with Lea's inner strength, and at the same time feel moved by her deep suffering. From an aesthetic point of view, the movie is to be visually appreciated for its pleasant settings, its refined costumes and in general for a deep care for precious details.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Classic Cinema in Elsternwick (Melbourne) Australia go to a certain
amount of trouble with movie previews. So yesterday with Cheri we had a
violinist playing in the cinema before the preview session, a
complimentary afternoon tea.. normally a box of cakes and goodies (but
only a single one yesterday), a range of teas in yesterday's case (no
coffee). In the past a glass of champagne has been offered and
sometimes there are lucky seats with prizes under them.
So perhaps no coffee yesterday was a forerunner of what was to come. The list of cons is sadly far greater than the pros
CONS The relationship between Michelle Pfeiffers character and Rupert Friends character is I am sorry to say more like Aunty and nephew. There's a passion missing here. Are they out lunching or enjoying other pleasures? No it's all indoors and not very exciting to watch at all. Ms Pfeiffer has wonderful hair, carries her age well (50 is not old), has perhaps nice back assuming no body doubles. But for me neither she or her character are not warm enough or sensual enough. In fact the lady I sat next to a cinema had more ooh la la. And she was a paying customer like us! And on the plus side of 60. Rupert Friend as someone here alluded to was too Olivia Bloom like, foppish almost gay if you like. His dark hair and pale skin gave him a very unhealthy allure.
Set in pre WW1 Paris and France I was looking forward to a variety of old veteran cars (only 3 in the whole show... perhaps the vehicle budget was limited.. surely there must be more veteran cars in France). The Edwardian style fashions I love but for these give me the Great Race 1965 style. Sadly there was no Mademsoielle Dubois here (Natalie Wood) to carry this off yet the period was the same.
One of the problems with Cheri is it lacked oxygen, location, recreations of pre WW1 France, any sense of movement timewise and romance on any level. In many ways the film was shot like a play. A few different sets mainly indoors but little of interest outdoors. Very tightly framed shots of gravel driveways in stately old homes... full stop.
Regarding the other courtesans with the exception of Cheri's wifes mother these were not a very stunning lot. Kathy Bates as a courtesan? Surely no man would pay serious money for her pleasures unless the supply of other courtesans was very short. Clearly these 19th century, 20th century gentlemen were either too free with their money or not fussy enough?
Perhaps Stephen Frears should have stayed on his side of the English Channel. Mrs Henderson presents was quite enjoyable... it did have Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins and the lovely Kelly Reilly.
Cheri should clearly have been left to the French, done with French actors and actresses in French with English sub-titles. What we have here sadly is about as French as McDonalds and must surely be a lost opportunity. Very disappointing.
Why is this movie rated as 6.2 out of 10? Are people blind? Crowds of movie goers flock to Avatar and Alice in Wonderland, and stuff like Cheri are completely overlooked. This is a delicious flick, with a great unusual and touching romantic story, gorgeous early 20th century atmosphere and brilliant interpretations from gorgeous Michele Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates. The story flows slow and stylishly like the surroundings of Belle Epoque and the final is so moving it makes a stone cry. Definitely the best movie I saw in 2009 together with Bright Star from Jane Campion. Please go see it and don't believe anyone who tells you otherwise.
One of the delights of this film is the lushness and perfection of the
sets and costumes of the Belle Époque (c. 1890-1914). The sets and
costumes are so gorgeous they threaten to overwhelm the actors.
Threaten, but don't succeed. Michelle Pfeiffer is sensual and beautiful
as the aging courtesan Leaa woman approaching a "certain age," as the
narrator (Stephen Frears) informs us. Lea has known the love and
admiration of the wealthiest men in Europe, many of them titled. She
has been wise to keep her heart out of her affairs. Then Fred,
("Cheri") the son of another courtesan (Kathy Bates) enters Lea's life,
and she finds herself caring for the aimless but charming young man
more than she should.
Kathy Bates is wonderful as Madame Peloux, a former competitor of Lea'sa woman who, if you squint hard (and catch the "portrait" of a younger Peloux) you can imagine having a gamine charm years before. Bates' acting moves effortlessly from laughing delightedly at smutty gossip to quickly assuming the pouting self-righteous expression of a disapproving mama as she discusses her son. From former courtesan to bourgeois matron in the blink of an eye. Bates carries this quick switch act off several times in the movie, and it's a pleasure to watch her skill at these rapid changes. The sets and costumes of Mme. Peloux, heavy 2nd Empire furnishings, stiff wired dressed with bustles, are beautifully contrasted with Lea's lighter lookslender, graceful, light. The clothes each character wears, and the styles of their respective homes, gives some subtext to the story. Mme. Peloux, a bit older than Lea, had her taste formed in an era of overdone stuffy pretentiousness, while Lea, a bit younger, has embraced the airy beauty of Art Nouveau.
The stultifying life of aging and former courtesans is well-depictedunwelcome in respectable society they have to fall back on each other's company. Former competitors, they still can't help sniping at one another. Lea, as one of the youngest of the group, moves like a sylph among the faded charms of her cohort. One amazing scene: Among a bower of faded courtesans, one of them, a busty brassy red-head, cuddles and squeals like a teenager as she introduces her lover, a young man who's the son of one this woman's "official lovers." As she overwhelms the rather weedy young man with her caresses, the viewer can see Lea's discomfortseeing the loud red-head and her boy lover seems like seeing a grotesque mockery of herself and Cheri.
Cheri, the title character, is played by Rupert Friend (Prince Albert in "The Young Victoria," and Mr. Wickham in the 2005 version of "Pride and Prejudice"). He's a young man who has only two responsibilities: marry, and manage the large amount of money his mother settles on him at his marriage. He's a young man without purpose, but finds love with Lea. What starts as a light-hearted affair turns into a relationship both Cheri and Lea need more than they realized. Lea and Cheri's affair endsas does the wonderful era depicted in this gorgeous movie. The war ends Lea and Cheri's world. The 20th century starts with bleakness and hardness after the golden afternoon of La Belle Époque. We are indebted to Collette and Stephen Frears for showing us the loveliness, and even the artful decadence, of that time, and we are indebted to the talented cast for giving life to the "demi-monde" ("half-world") of that era.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are several very good reasons to see Cheri, directed by Stephen
Frears and written by Christopher Hampton from the novel by Colette.
It's a beautifully made costume drama, shot in some wonderful
locations. It's well scripted (although it does wander off track and
get a little rambling in the middle)and it's moderately entertaining,
although probably only for a limited audience. But the best reason of
all is to see some really interesting performances from an array of
predominantly female actors.
Michelle Pfeiffer makes a very welcome and long overdue return to center stage, as Lea de Lonval, a Belle Epoch (ie turn of the 20th century) courtesan in Paris. Lea is ready to retire from her profession, the business of sex, and takes up with the son of a fellow courtesan, the beautiful, languid Cheri (meaning Darling), not for money this time but for love. Pfeiffer is radiant in the part, and watching her is a sheer pleasure.
Cheri is played by Rupert Friend, who keeps popping up on my radar as one of the more interesting and talented of the young male actors around. He seems to be taking his career slowly but carefully, picking some interesting roles. I first spotted him in Pride and Prejudice, as wicked Mr Wickham, after which he was excellent in Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, opposite Joan Plowright. I thought at that time how much like Orlando Bloom he looks, but luckily he is a far better actor, and will, I think, ultimately have a longer shelf life.
Also fabulous is Kathy Bates as Cheri's mother. It is her plan to marry him off to Edmee, the young daughter of a fellow courtesan, taking him away from his true love Lea (his senior by many years) that sets the scene for what will become a tragedy. The courtesans were hugely rich, but lived lives of isolated splendor. Not accepted by polite society, they turned to each other for social interaction, a small, intense and rather incestuous circle. Bates' Madam Peloux needs to marry Cheri off but has limited options. Edmee, the daughter of another old rival, is available. Both are an only child set to inherit large sums of money. Business takes precedence, marriage is a joining of fortunes and love means nothing, leaving everyone unhappy, Edmee, Cheri and Lea.
Perhaps almost as interesting - or even more so than this movie's story, is the story of Colette herself. The novelist lived from 1873 to 1954, married three times, had many lovers of both genders including her stepson, played the music halls, wrote an opera with Ravel, ran a hospital during WW1 and helped her Jewish friends survive during WW2. She wrote some fifty novels including Gigi, (made into a play and an award winning musical), and is often referred to as one of France's greatest writers.
And I can't review this movie without saying how quite wonderful it is, for once, to see an older woman entangled with a sexy younger man, and how rarely we get to see that on screen. Time and time again, we see quite ridiculous age gaps between male stars and much, much younger women. Here, Pfeiffer and Friend make the opposite work perfectly. I appreciate that costume drama has a fairly limited audience, and this movie is certainly not perfect, but personally - I loved it!!
I think this commentary does not do justice to the complexity of the
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Chéri' is a product of the great English team that created the
brilliant Choderlos de Laclos adaptation 'Dangerous Liasons' (1988),
Christopher Hampton the writer, as prolific as he is adept at turning
French texts into English movies or plays, and Stephen Frears the
director, who brought us such greatness as (to name a few) 'The Queen,'
'Dirty pretty Things,' 'The Grifters,' 'Prick Up Your Ears', and the
novelistically rich bisexual story of Pakistanis and Cockneys in
London, 'My Beautiful Laundrette'. This new film moreover is graced by
the presence of Michelle Pfeiffer in the central part of Colette's
aging courtesan Léa de Lonval. Pfeiffer had the pivotal role of Madame
de Tourvel in 'Dangerous Liaisons.' Again this is a movie where French
people speak English, but that worked in the audacious and sumptuous
Frears/Hampton 'Dangerous Liaisons,' and it works again here.
It's two decades later and Hampton, Frears, and Pfeiffer, though they show no sign of waning gifts, don't quite bring back the magic; but still 'Chéri,' adapted from two 1920's short novels by Colette (not as strong material as de Laclos' epistolary novel), is nicely paced and gorgeous to look at, and Michelle is a wondrously beautiful fifty-year-old and still a delicious actress. Rupert Friend, as Léa's young beau Fred Peloux, nicknamed Chéri, isn't too hard on the eyes either as the young man, though he's a bit difficult to accept as a 19-year-old at first (then the study jumps forward to six years later). Friend is actually around 27, and for this role, a decidedly decadent-looking 27 at that.
But decadent is what the part calls for. Chéri himself is the son of an extremely rich courtesan. Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates, in elaborate late 19th-century garb, playing broadly enough to be Lady Bracknell in 'The Importance of Being Earnest') has spoiled the boy rotten, he is completely lazy, and she turns him over to Léa for training. This he might have got, except that they belie all but dime novel expectations and fall madly in love with each other and remain together for six years, whereupon Chéri suddenly decides to get married, to Edmée (Felicity Jones), the daughter of another courtesan who has done well off her lovers, and from then on things get complicated. All through the six years of the relationship Léa so adores Chéri, she hasn't the detachment to train him and just lets him do what he wants.
Art Nouveau curlicues swirl throughout this beautifully designed film, and Pfeiffer's looks and costumes are marvels of new deco tastes: the story runs from the end of the Belle Époque to WWI. Relationships with several servants become important as they are chatted up and asked for advice, which sometimes they are smart enough not to give. Urban gardens are absolutely lush in the nineteenth-century manner, and all the visuals manage to be impossibly rich without being too distracting. But it all begins and ends with the casting, and though Bates' broadness might be obtrusive, it isn't, because her role is relatively small. Rupert Friend is wonderfully pale and sickly looking, yet sexy. Chéri is spoiled, and a bit androgynous, as indicated by his constant desire to wear Léa's pearl necklace, which he says looks just as good on him.
Chéri soon tires of his wife, who at eighteen seems indecently young to him. We know what's going to happen. The only flaw of this enjoyable adaptation is that it happens too fast and the emotional complications don't come across as powerfully as they might, especially when we think of the ending of 'Dangerous Liaisons' and Glenn Close's devastating collapse in the theater. In his effort to fuse together the two Colette Chéri novels Hampton and Frears rush through the latter stages of the story. They also have a bit of trouble with tone. Having started out in a light comic vein, they aren't altogether able to modulate into the darker moods of emotional confusion, disenchantment, and fear of aging.
The latter is the issue Léa faces all along. Michelle Pfeiffer's lovely but no longer young face, photographed in complimentary lights and then somewhat more cruel ones, in itself tells a rich story that compensates for shortcomings in this generally buoyant and entertaining adaptation.
How wonderful to escape recessionary 2009 for a more glamorous world -
Paris of the Belle Epoque. Every scene is a feast for the eye -
including some marvellous Art Nouveau interiors - and the sun always
seems to be shining on dewy gardens or a blue-green sea.
And in these luscious settings unfolds a tale of love with a capital L. It is the tale of a strong, wise heroine and a poetic, spoilt young man - a couple who never thought they would find love, both of whom recognise in their different ways that it has found them.
The acting is superb. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the heroine splendidly, and Rupert Friend has the beauty of a figure from a Burne-Jones painting. Christopher Hampton's screenplay is witty and seductive. The film score sets the tale off perfectly.
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