In the final years of La Belle Epoque in Paris the beautiful former courtesan Léa (Michelle Pfeiffer) becomes involved with Chéri (Rupert Friend), the 19 year old son of her former rival Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates). Theirs is an unlikely pairing, but their love affair lasts six years, before the spiteful Mme Peloux arranges a financially rewarding marriage for her son with 18 year old Edmee (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the not so motherly Marie-Laure (Iben Hjejle), another courtesan.
Review by Louise Keller:
If the devil is in the detail, this is a devil of a film. As exquisite as a beautiful painting, Chéri is gorgeous to look at. Every scene is a work of art with its spectacular Paris, Biarritz and Cologne locations, superb lighting, faultless production design and extravagant costumes. There's also a large orchestral score by Alexandre Desplat, brought to life by the London Symphony. And Michelle Pfeiffer is ravishing as Léa, the beautiful former courtesan whose bed was once her only place of business.
Based on two Colette novels, Christopher Hampton's adaptation concentrates on mood and the subtleties of the relationship between Léa and her young lover Chéri (Rupert Friend), while Stephen Frears expertly pulls it all together to create a supremely visual and haunting tale of obsession. It's a very different role for Pfeiffer from that of the vulnerable innocent beauty in Dangerous Liaisons (also adapted by Hampton), who was rendered helpless when John Malkovich's deceitful lothario claimed everything (especially his bad behaviour) was 'beyond his control'.
The relationships in this almost fairy-tale world that is removed from everyday life are all complex. The doomed lovers; the married couple, the love hate relationship between the two women. There's a scene in which Kathy Bates's Madame Peloux ('All men are strange') complements and insults Michelle Pfeiffer's Léa in the same breath. It takes place in a spectacularly beautiful garden filled with statues, roses, trellises and shaded pathways. Embracing her, Madame Peloux tells Léa how beautiful she smells before adding how ageing skin helps to retain fragrance longer. It is indicative of the relationship between the two - outwardly charming, but inwardly deadly. Léa's affair with Madame Peloux' son Chéri, begins with her mother's blessing - after all Léa can teach him a thing or two. But six years later, she shows twisted pleasure in Léa's reaction when she tells of Chéri's forthcoming arranged marriage. Then the real story begins.
We are transported into Léa and Chéri world, where having everything you want doesn't mean a thing, when you cannot have the one thing you want most. Even that first and last glass of Pommery at Maxim's is not enough. There's a formality about the narration which reinforces the clothes and manners of the day that keep us slightly at arms length. When Michelle Pfeiffer inhales perfume from the rose in the garden, we can smell its fragrance too. The pleasures of the journey are layered in subtlety, and like any piece of art, we feel its beauty from having been immersed in it.
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CAST: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Rupert Friend, Felicity Jones, Frances Tomelty, Anita Pallenberg, Harriet Walter, Iben Hjejle
PRODUCER: Andras Hamori, Bill Kenwright, Thom Mount, Tracey Seaward
DIRECTOR: Stephen Frears
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Darius Khondji
EDITOR: Lucia Zucchetti
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alan MacDonald
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 23, 2009