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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Film review: Chéri

Stephan Frears / Great Britain

Frears (The Queen) teams up again with screenwriter Christopher Hampton and actress Michelle Pfeiffer (Dangerours Liason) for Chéri, based on the romantic novel by French writer Colette.

“Chéri” is the nickname of Fred Peloux (Rupert Friend), the vain and beautifully groomed son of a former courtesan, the wealthy Madame Peloux (a perfectly cast Kathy Bates). He is 19 years old and his casual attitude and hedonism make it difficult to marry him off. The elegant Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), a contemporary and retired colleague of his mother is invited for tea and help in leading him into the right direction. Little does she know that - despite the age difference - the two of them will both experience true love for the first time in their unsteady lives. The six-year affair is forced apart when Madame Preloux arranges a marriage between Chéri and the rich but innocent 20-year old Edmee (Felicity Jones). Both lovers suffer emotionally and struggle in accepting their essential differences. Under great pain and fruitless diversions they finally come to terms with the new situation.

This evocation of belle époque Paris, where a circle of courtesans have come to riches, reflects the atmosphere with elaborate costumes and tasteful sets. A wonderfully witty Kathy Bates (photo right) and ironic Michelle Pfeiffer (photo left) entertain us with a frisk and amusing exchange of words in the tranquil setting of the lush winter garden. Their talk ranges from the elasticity of skin to the value of their shares on the stock market, with Rupert Friend, as Chéri, adding his aloof and bitchy comments. Michelle Pfeiffer brings a wide range of emotions to her character; touching vulnerability is masked by outward strength as the relationship between the lovers develops into a strong dependency on each other. This movie is not only an entertaining but satisfying portrait of an era, suggesting reminiscence with a touch of nostalgia for times gone by.

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