Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 16 July 2009
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Chéri is a decadent Belle Époque tale from the 1920 Colette novel (and sequel) of a famed Parisian courtesan and her unexpected love affair with a spoiled 19 year old pretty-boy - rich of course.
Lea de Lonval (Michele Pfeiffer) is the famed courtesan, sophisticated and bored. A male narrator (director Stephen Frears himself) describes her as a “woman of a certain age.” She is still an object of desire, but is keenly aware of the figurative grains of sand which slip endlessly through the hourglass. She studies her face for tiny changes and looks at her reflection as if she expects it to betray her with the inevitability of gravity and mortality. Time is not her friend.
At the other end of that spectrum is Fred, also known by the term of endearment Chéri (Rupert Friend). The young, but already world-weary son of another famed courtesan Charlotte Peloux is a playboy in his own right. Lea and Chéri embark on a sexual romp that lasts six years and blossoms into an unspoken love affair, much to their surprise and secret denial. Chéri is a kept man, an expensive trinket in Lea’s collection.
This oddly ideal arrangement is interrupted when Charlotte arranges a lucrative marriage for her son, which throws the mismatched couple into a turmoil that neither will admit to experiencing. Chéri weds, Lea travels. Both cannot get the other out of their thoughts.
These days, Lea would be called the dreaded C-word – no not that, I mean Cougar. Another label slapped upon women “of a certain age”, as if the burden of fading youth and beauty were not enough to bear.
The rest of the film leads to a sad reunion of the two, in which it is understood that the future does not hold any sort of promise for them. The narrator describes events that subsequently occur, including a sad, surprising conclusion.
This is not a film full of emotion but matter-of-fact events. Lea knows she has limited market time and understands that Chéri must marry. Chéri understands that he has a wife and will not be expected to be faithful to her, so his realization of great heartbreak occurs to him at a much slower pace than does Lea’s.
There’s very little action, and the languorous pace can be misconstrued as boring, but it simply allows the viewer time enough to luxuriate in the decadence of the costumes and surroundings. Even the bedroom sheets are slowly and lazily draped about the pretty principals, not a hint of impropriety peeking out from the very proper composition.
Elegance is its own star and the gracious existence of these scarlet women is a persuasive argument for the world’s oldest profession but limited to the period known as La Belle Époque (the beautiful era) which lasted from the late nineteenth century to the start of World War I. No Chicken Ranch here, only the lush estates and lifestyles of the rich and infamous.
Michele Pfeiffer carries herself in an elegant manner as the ageless, desirable woman of ill-repute. Rupert Friend makes Chéri an insufferable WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) and that adds to his curious appeal. It doesn’t hurt that he can match or almost exceed Pfeiffer in facial beauty.
Kathy Bates, as she does in many of her roles, portrays a character that is straight-talking, bawdy and humorous. She adds the rare comic relief in which the film permits itself to indulge.
It’s been more than two decades since Director Stephen Frears (The Queen), writer Christopher Hampton (Atonement) and Pfeiffer worked together on another French period piece with seduction as its centerpiece (Dangerous Liaisons). The reunited trio makes for a carefully crafted production, in good hands at every turn.
French novelist Colette also authored Gigi, the film version of which offered the song, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” Chéri makes a lovely case for appreciating the big ones.