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 lonely. 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 "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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"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.
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