Review: Colette

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PLOT: Colette tells the story of a French novelist and her complicated romance with the famed writer “Willy.”

REVIEW: The story of French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette is a bold and fascinating one, especially considering the time period in which she lived. The writer went years without receiving credit for her work. She was openly bisexual, and she and her husband had what you would call an open relationship. In the new film simply titled COLETTE, Keira Knightley gives an exquisite performance as the fiercely passionate writer who was far ahead of her time. Directed by Wash Westmoreland (STILL ALICE), this is an impressive exploration of Colette and the home she shared with a writer simply known as “Willy” (Dominic West). While the subject matter could have allowed for a far more provocative take, Westmoreland is able to explore her controversial relations while still making a sublime and romantic tale.

COLETTE explores the rocky relationship with the talented writer and her husband Willy. After they are married, they move to Paris in hopes to find literary success. When he realizes he needs another ghostwriter, he convinces his wife to try her own hand. Colette composes a semi-autobiographical tale of growing up in rural France, naming her antagonist Claudine. The book becomes a bestseller, which convinces Willy to have his wife write another. As the series becomes more successful, the two indulge in their new found fame. This includes both having relations with a seductive Southern belle named Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson). And when Willy takes a much younger lover named Meg (Shannon Tarbet), Colette finds something deeper in her romance with the rebellious Marquise de Belbeuf or “Missy” (Denise Gough).

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The real Colette had quite an interesting life. She married a man who indulged in numerous relations, and she herself managed to find comfort elsewhere. Because of their marriage, he was forced to give up his fortune and the two struggled early on. However, the success with the “Claudine” novels and subsequent theatrical productions based on the book only made their relationship more complex - yet oftentimes strangely supportive. The romantic element of Willy and Colette is an absorbing look inside their lives, and the frustration and heartache that came with their love.

As unconventional as this story is, and certainly would have been back then, the film takes a more standard approach. That is not to say that it doesn’t work, in fact, quite the opposite. Westmoreland’s traditional telling of Colette’s story perhaps makes it all feel more relevant. Instead of creating a more seductive and bombastic approach, there is a sense of normalcy in this story. As hurtful as Willy can be to his wife, he is not painted so much as a monster, but as a man who is unprepared for such a secure and strong willed partner. As well, Colette is not simply a victim of love, in fact, she seems just as in charge of her life as Willy is of his.

Sometimes you find a moment in a film that just captivates. In one of the final scenes in COLETTE, Keira Knightley delivers a potent monologue to her on-screen lover. Her performance here is damn near perfect. In fact, this may be one of her best to date. The way she maneuvers through her relationship with her mother, her lovers and of course her husband, it is easy to fall under her graces. Far from fragile, Knightley’s Colette is a thing of beauty. She is childish, fierce, romantic and vivacious. It’s not at all surprising that there is a little Oscar buzz about this biopic. And frankly, it is certainly worthy of a nomination for such a brazen and lovely show.

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Wash Westmoreland may follow a more traditional cinematic path, yet he certainly makes it work. The images of the famous Moulin Rouge and the gorgeous French countryside create a lush backdrop for this timeless tale. It may have been interesting to see a less straightforward approach considering the life that Colette lived. The fact that she had to fight to get credit for the “Claudine” books is certainly relevant and fascinating in todays world. However, I found that the filmmaker instead shined the spotlight on his leading lady. This really is Keira’s movie in every way, and she was more than up for it. As well, the twisted wail of violins and strings from the score by Thomas Adès adds a bit of intensity to this stirring drama.

COLETTE follows a more conventional approach to the unconventional life of writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Thankfully, that life is a passionate and entrancing one, therefore there is much to be explored. Keira Knightley’s excellent portrayal of the novelist is of course the shining star in this seductive feature. As well, Dominic West gives yet another impressive performance. This is a timely romance that is perfectly suited for a modern audience. Yet even if you aren’t a fan of lush period pieces, you can’t deny the alluring charm of Ms. Knightley. While perhaps not nearly as shocking as it could have been, COLETTE is an engaging portrait of a talented artist.

Source: JoBlo.com



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