Cheri: Based on the novel by Colette
"Cheri", based on the novel with the same title authored by Colette and released in 2009, is a very unique French romance story. It shows the courtesan lifestyle and how difficult it was for these women. Compared to most films released by the French film industry, this one had a good plot and subplot plus very little nudity. I am certain the book this movie was based on was much bawdier. I appreciated the tastefulness that went into the creation of this more American version that was obviously made with American tastes in mind. Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates, as usual, do not disappoint with their flawless and skilled performances. Their roles were obviously difficult, yet they seemed to do them easily, and are very strong female ones. Director Stephen Frear, cast and crew created a masterpiece that transports the viewer back to the early 1900's.
"Cheri" takes place in France, mostly Paris. It begins with a little history lesson of how the courtesans managed to gain wealth and a certain measure of influence upon the political scene in Europe. This history lesson is done humorously and gradually introduces the main character that this film is mostly about, Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer), a wealthy courtesan who has had a good long run in her profession, but knows soon she will have to retire because she is over thirty. Lea does not have any friends outside of the courtesan social circle. "Cheri" points out how even though these women are competitive in this very ancient profession, they have a certain friendship, are as close-knit as a family. They look out for one another, even though they do not really like each other. This closeness is why Madame Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), an older and retired courtesan enlists the aid of Lea de Lonval for the cleaning up of Charlotte's pampered bohemian nineteen year old son (played by Rupert Friend) who is on the verge of ruining his health because of alcohol and opium. Lea, who has always been fond of Charlotte's son, and when he was a child Lea had nicknamed Charlotte's son Cheri which means "friend or dear" in French, decides to help by using unorthodox methods and taking Cheri to her country resort type place that Lea is very fond of residing. This leads to a six year affair with Cheri. Madame Peloux does not have a problem with this for she trusts Lea and wants Lea to teach Cheri how to get a long with and be kind to a woman as well as clean up his bohemian ways in order to become suitable for matrimony.
At the end of the six years, Lea and Cheri return to Paris, still living together. Cheri now is completely off of opium and not the pampered bohemian he once was. His health is excellent. Lea owns an elegant residence in Paris, France. Madame Charlotte Peloux finds Cheri a "perfect match" who is a little younger, but close to Cheri's age, and arranges for the two of them to be married. Charlotte wants grandchildren. She believes her son is ready to wed the beautiful eighteen year old virgin Edmee (Felicity Jones) who is the daughter of a wealthy courtesan and friend of both Lea and Charlotte. Edmee had been raised very protectively and her mother, Marie-Laure (Iben Hjejle), kept her daughter away from the courtesan world by enrolling Edmee into a respectable boarding school throughout her minor years. Marie-Laure wanted her daughter to marry wealthy and be respectable, not become trapped into the vocation of a courtesan. Unfortunately for Lea and Cheri, after living together for 6 years, they both realize they have deep feelings for each other. Lea knows they should not. She agrees Cheri should marry, insists upon it. She points out to Cheri the difference in their ages and explains how Cheri needs to experience life, his youth, with someone closer to his age. Cheri, now twenty-five, marries Edmee out of obligation for the arrangement between their mothers, and to move up the social ladder respectably in French society.
Cheri's marrying, prompts Lea into leaving Paris. Lea does not tell any one where, keeps it a secret, but hints she has a new client primarily to fend off her very curious friends. Charlotte is happy for Lea and feels Lea is doing right by moving onward with her life. Charlotte believes this will grant Cheri and Edmee room for their marriage to blossom. This disappearance of Lea's, however, forces Cheri to face his very deep feelings for Lea. Cheri finds himself realizing how difficult matrimony truly is; especially when one does not marry for love, but for a better station in society. The rest of the movie goes back and forth between Lea and Cheri depicting their misery because of their love for one another, but the rightness of Cheri devoting his life to his wife and being away from Lea.
"Cheri" is 1 hour and 33 minutes in length. The R rating is due to subject matter as well as the little nudity displayed. This is definitely a French adult themed movie; not recommended for minors. "Cheri" is on DVD. The little bit of history that is in this movie is fictionalized, but has the French society mind-set of the early 1900's down pat. Recommend viewing if you like Kathy Bates, Michelle Pfeiffer, or European and Indy Films.