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dir Stephen Frears
scr Christopher Hampton
with Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Friend, Kathy Bates, Iben Hjejle, Toby Kebbell, Felicity Jones, Anita Pallenberg, Harriet Walter, Nichola McAuliffe, Rollo Weeks, Frances Tomelty, Bette Bourne
release UK 8.May.09, US 26.Jun.09
The pleasure is mine: Pfeiffer and Friend
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
Based on the Colette novel, this film reunites the writer, director and star of Dangerous Liaisons. And it would have to be considered disappointing if judged by that high standard. But this is a terrific slice of romanticism.
In Belle Epoque Paris, Lea (Pfeiffer) is an aging courtesan who still has considerable powers of seduction. Former competitor Charlotte (Bates) is worried about her spoiled hedonist son Chéri (Friend), and suggests that Lea help him out. But Lea begins to fall for Chéri. Charlotte isn't happy about this, and arranges a marriage between Cheri and the virginal Edmee (Jones), daughter of another courtesan (Hjejle). Will Chéri have the backbone to stand up for true love? Does he even know what love is?
The film is brisk, snappy and packed with Oscar Wilde-style one-liners ("I can't criticise his character mainly because he doesn't seem to have one," Lea observes). This fast, smart chatter keeps us entertained as we wait for the real story to kick in. But this is the real story; it's a film about a series of small events that only hint at something bigger. This makes the film feel slight and slightly aimless, even though there are some terrific things going on under the surface.
And Pfeiffer is simply wonderful at catching Lea's attempts to hide her inner aching with stiff-upper-lip wit. Her strained smiles and icy laughs only barely disguise her longing and emotion, as well as her fear of aging. Opposite her, Friend is very good, creating someone who's deeply attractive and yet never remotely likeable. We don't mind what happens to him at all, and that's the point. By contrast, Bates is allowed to go over the top as his shrewish mother.
Technically, the film is spotless, with gorgeous cinematography, colourful costumes, detailed sets and a marvellous Alexandre Desplat score. Frears' direction is more efficient than insightful (and his voiceover a bit desperately jaunty), although he does make sure that there's a vivid darkness lurking just beneath the film's bouncy surface. In the end, it's a remarkable observation on how romantic fantasy can never live up to reality. And how the taste of youth is never quite satisfying.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S
|Juliana Higgins, London: "Michelle Pfeiffer proves once more that she's a great actress and star. It's worthwhile to watch Cheri just for the pleasure to see this incredible woman. I hope we can see her in action in the near future." (21.Jun.09)
© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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