Review by Michael Edwards
SET in turn of the century France, lavish period drama Cheri tells the story of aging courtesan Lea de Lonval (Michelle Pfeiffer) who, having spent a successful career avoiding the dangers of love, finally falls for Cheri (Rupert Friend): the handsome young son of her erstwhile ‘colleague’.
Charting their relationship from its sudden emergence one day, through its heady early days, strange comforts and poignant conclusion, Cheri is a surprisingly vivacious journey deep into the world of love.
As you might expect for a high-brow period drama boasting such talents, the whole thing looks superb. Bright colourful garden scenes intersperse the interior shots of luxuriant bourgeois interiors.
Pfeiffer wears some of the most intricate dresses you can expect to see, whilst supported by Kathy Bates (playing Madame Peloux, the mother of Cheri) in a series of imaginative and occasionally bizarre contemporary haute couture.
Cheri himself provides little in this department, but his alarming vacillations between emaciated dandy and topless eye-candy for the lady is certainly an achievement of sorts.
The pace of the film is maintained with quick cuts, sharp dialogue and an odd narrator whose dual role of providing pace and wry observation prevents the viewer from sinking too far into the sumptuous visuals. Instead, we’re forced to consider the impact of what we’re seeing and the consequences, which the characters so carefully avoid.
By the end it’s impossible not to be affected by this story of love in troubled times. The relationship between Lea and Cheri offers a painful look at the ageing process, as well as the frailty of the conditions in which love cannot just be born, but survive.
Director Stephen Frears coaxes excellent performances from Friend and Pfeiffer, succeeding in making them at once the frivolous souls they must be, as well as the tortured lovers with whom the audience must be able to empathise.
Sometimes the playful dialogue, frivolous lifestyles and vibrant visuals grate against the poignant themes that simmer beneath the surface; but on whole this film manages to produce a stylish spectacle that plumbs serious emotional depths at the same time. No mean feat, that’s for sure.
Running time: 92mins
UK DVD Release Date: September 21, 2009