Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. United Kingdom/France/Germany, 2009. Bill Kenwright Films, Pathé, UK Film Council, Aramid Entertainment Fund, MMC Studios, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Tiggy Films, France 3 Cinéma, Canal+, Banque Populaire Images 9, Région Ile-de-France, Cheri Productions, Pathé Renn Productions, Erste MMC-Production, Centre National de la Cinématographie, National Lottery through UK Film Council. Screenplay by Christopher Hampton, based on the novels Cheri and The Last of Cheri by Colette. Cinematography by Darius Khondji. Produced by Julius Green, Andras Hamori, Bill Kenwright, Tracey Seaward. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by Alan MacDonald. Costume Design by Consolata Boyle. Film Editing by Lucia Zucchetti.
Michelle Pfeiffer reunites, gloriously, with her Dangerous Liaisons screenwriter Christopher Hampton and director Stephen Frears for this adorable souffle of a film, based on the novel by Colette. She plays a courtesan past her prime who revels in the wealth she has accumulated after years of companionship with the brutish sex, happy to live alone and have, as she puts it, in the comforts of a bed all to herself. This changes, however, on a routine visit to a former colleague (Kathy Bates), whose son has grown from the impish brat she used to dangle on her knee to a rakish heartthrob (played by Rupert Friend) who is madly in love with her. The two begin an affair meant to be playful but ends up lasting six years, until he gives in to his mother’s request that he have a proper marriage, and Pfeiffer approves the notion, insisting that she needs to be rid of him anyway. The possibility that these two can make a clean break after their passions and insecurities have been entwined is impossible, and from there the comedy grows fangs as Friend tries to forget his lady and Pfeiffer tries to prove herself above the folly of love. The film never strikes any deep chords, faithfully rendering the lightness of its source material’s author, but it does an exquisite job of plucking its shallow ones. Pfeiffer rules majestically over the entire operation, gorgeously showing off her aging face without fear and keeping masterful control over the character’s complexities: she at times displays rage, desire and sorrow all at the same time, probably the most charged woman simultaneously struck by love and hatred so effectively in the cinema since Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Eve. While physically unfit for the role–an aging prostitute in the fin-de-siecle period would have grown corpulent and rotund, the result of all those gifts of bonbons and freely poured bottles of sherry, and the constant references by other characters to how well she keeps herself do not hide this fact—it is no end of pleasure to see Pfeiffer dominating the screen with her intelligent sensuality. The supporting cast backs her up quite amply, and while Frears doesn’t seem to be as devoted to the task as he was in The Queen, or even Mrs. Henderson Presents, it’s still a worthy entry in his marvellous oeuvre and a film that will amuse all who see it.