December 27, 2009

"now that the skin is a little less firm, it holds the perfume much better"

While Charlotte, Cheri's mother, is at ease with her age, the mention of sagging old skin, pierces Lea's insides. She would rather not be reminded of the futile desire of eternal youth. (hey, I know what that feels like. My ten year younger EX-boyfriend kindly pointed out that the reason he can't give me a proper hickey, is, well, because, I am older. Ouch. )

Moving on

Cheri, the movie, stars Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea, the beautiful aging courtesan, Rupert Friend as Fred Peloux, nicknamed Cheri by all who know him, and Kathy Bates as Cheri's mother, Charlotte. Directed by Stephan Fears (reuniting Pfeiffer and Frears since that masterpiece "Dangerous Liasons"). Screenplay by Christopher Hampton (also the writer on Dangerous Liasons)

While I expected a more light-hearted tale, as opposed to the book, which carried a melancholy undertone throughout, the film has a tangible wistfulness about it. Frears doesn't dwell as excessively as the author Colette on the decay of the flesh and its effects in a superficially inclined society, nevertheless, it is the obsession with physical beauty and perfection that ultimately tears Lea's and Cheri's relationship asunder. While one might hope she retains the mother/teacher figure in Cheri's life, once you have been lovers, the former two are impossible to sustain.

The tear of separation is outwardly gentle. No wrenching rip nor shreds to be heard or found. Its all done with extreme politeness and dignity. All hide behind masks. And Cheri is grateful for Lea's diplomacy and lack of drama when their pas de deux ends.

The film opens with a gay narration, highlighting some of the more famous courtesans of the era - the Belle epoque - and their goals in life. Drive the men mad and acquire as many assets as possible. The period before all innocence ended with the outbreak of the Great War. It was a time of wit, luxury, depravity and conscientious debauchery. Excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures. Cheri has been spoiled since he was born. Yet has never known love. In its stead, the having-it-all grew tenacles and stunted any feelings or emotions he might developed. We perceive him as a petulant spoiled child. And will always remain so, whatever his age.

Lea is able to weaken the grip for a while. But as weeds are wont to do, they never die. So this emotional desert regains control of Cheri's heart. And is his downfall in the end.

While Frears does not dwell excessively on the outer decay of Ms. Pfeiffer, there are a few shots at the end that show her frailty via a few wrinkles here and there. (The book is unforgiving in its gleeful description of the aging courtesan. Women are much crueler.)

The casting of Rupert Friend is much in keeping as the physical and emotional portrait of Colette's Cheri, with his uber model magnificence. Ms. Pfeiffer is lovely and luminous as always. Now I don't know if it was the director or Ms. Pfeiffer's wish, but her aging is depicted with much more grace than it was in the book. Even in the starkest daylight, she still looks pretty awesome. And can't understand why anyone would leave her for some incredibly average twenty year old wife, Edmee (played by Felicity Jones)

While I enjoyed the movie, one did leave the theater with a chill. The hollowness of Cheri's character, or lack thereof, as Lea mentions in the beginning of their relatively long enduring tryst, pervades.

The acting was solid, the direction somewhat hesitant, especially in dealing with Ms. Pfeiffer's character. The film, as a whole, lacked something. Just like Cheri.

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