Colette (2018)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.5.  

/USA, 2018.  , , , .  Story by , Screenplay by Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland, .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , , , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by

The most celebrated female author in France’s history, and one of the most popular in the world, made a long journey to self-discovery that required throwing off the shackles of society and putting it all down in best-selling prose.  Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette () grows up in the countryside and charms the very pants off a Parisian writer and publisher (), who marries her despite her lack of dowry and whisks her away to the capital city.   The fashionable soirees of the City of Lights bore our heroine, but she has little else to distract her until her husband informs her that they need more money coming in as the various publications he releases under his “Willy” brand aren’t keeping the lights on (and it doesn’t help that what does come in he spends at brothels).  Putting her to work on stories based on her adventures in the lush countryside, Gabrielle comes up with the adventures of a young woman named Claudine, stories bursting with as much envelope-pushing sexuality as bucolic charm, and sales of the first book go through the roof before the character and her subsequent adventures inspire fashion and hair trends in the city and are stamped on various household products.  By the time Claudine is brought to a stage adaptation, a great deal has happened to Gabrielle’s self-image: her love affairs with women have brought her to a deeper realization of herself, while her husband’s influence, at first instructive and supportive, has become controlling and oppressive.  Wash Westmoreland, working from a screenplay originally created with his late partner Richard Glatzer, has been working on getting this project to the big screen since well before his breakthrough hit Still Alice, and in that time hasn’t managed to make Colette’s origin story too easy to distinguish from other cinematic Künstlerromans that chart the journey from influenced to influencer:  Knightley’s skill at carrying an entire movie on her slim shoulders grows more impressive with each lush period piece, but Frida did a much better job of showing the artist actually enjoying and experiencing their art, while also giving a richer sense of the character’s non-traditional sexuality.  Westmoreland isn’t afraid of Colette’s lesbianism, but he is apparently bored by it, treating even her long-term relationship with as Missy like bland moments of lustful scratch-itching before getting back to the fiery conflict between man and wife.  I’d argue that the film ends just at the point at which the author’s life becomes far more interesting but far less vulnerable to a sympathetic victim narrative, but it is still enjoyable and beautiful, moving quickly enough to make you forget the irritating presence of English dialogue in a French story.

Toronto International Film Festival:  2018

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