Adapted from Colette’s controversial 1920s novels Cheri and The Last of Cheri, which centre on a six-year love affair between a young man, Cheri, and ageing courtesan Lea de Lonval, and its aftermath, Stephen Frears’ film is a complex and visually exquisite meditation on ageing and loss; themes that are effected on both a narrative and formal level.
The two leads are excellent. As Lea, Michelle Pfeiffer imbues the character with both wisdom and resigned sadness, qualities that set her apart from the grotesque denizens of the Belle Époque era; Rupert Friend, as the effeminate Cheri, manages to embody a world-weariness.
In reversing the desiring gaze, Frears stays true to his source material; here it is Cheri who likes to wear pearl necklaces and invite Lea’s admiration by posing in front of her. Where Frears is perhaps less successful is in his decision to include an omniscient narrator; not only is this voiceover annoyingly didactic, it is also wholly unnecessary and lets down both the subtlety of the novel and the lead actors’ performances. Additionally, some of the peripheral characters, in particular Mademoiselle Peloux (Kathy Bates), are reduced to stereotype and function as mere foils to the main protagonists’ inner emotional worlds. This said, the cinematography and costumes go some way to making amends.
Selected release from Fri 8 May.