Chéri - Movie Report

Why did Stephen Frear's Chéri go straight to video in the USA? Why was it given limited theatrical release after its debut at the Berlin Film Festival this year? The film based on a novel by Colette stars Michelle Pfeiffer in probably one of her best all time roles, as Lea de Lonval , a mature high class courtesan who befriends Chéri played by Rupert Friend to teach him the ways of the world. Maybe we are not used to seeing Pfeiffer in such a role, but her performance makes one understand how her acting has ripened beyond the point of excellence. Colette doesn't really do Lea justice and Frears only at the very end shows how she erroneously thinks, that maturity can be no match in the long run for youth. You will recall Pfeiffer, Frears and screenwriter Christoper Hampton from Dangerous Liaisons in 1988 and its lavish costumes.

Chéri is raised by loose women his entire life, and his mother Madame Peloux played by Kathy Bates encourages Lea to take on Chéri as an apprentice and teach him about etiquette with women. Once Lea apparently succeeds, Peloux marries him off to the drab young Edmee, played by Felicity Jones but one can hardly wait till Pfeiffer gets back on screen. The setting is the Belle Époque era in pre World War I France and Frears though frugal in set design compared to Dangerous Liaisons is still able to convey the excesses of the period. The dialogue by Frampton is savory and works well with Frears' sense of timing. Chéri is a luscious and contemplative gem, but it is Michelle Pfeiffer that steals every scene, every moment and shows how versatile she is as a great actress and a strong contender for best actress at the 2010 Golden Globes, where the Hollywood Foreign Press has certainly paid more attention to Chéri than the US box office.

© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/30/09
Movie Magazine International