The 2009 movie Chéri was based on two novels written by Colette: Chéri and The Last of Chéri. In my early twenties, I loved them for the descriptions of yearning, of love left unfulfilled. Chéri as Colette described him had mannerisms similar to those of one I yearned for–the way he ate, or rather, didn’t eat, the way he moved and spoke. When I watched the movie last night, forty-some years after reading the novels, I didn’t find the resemblance. Perhaps Rupert Friend simply made the role his own. Or perhaps my memories had faded, unlike in the story, where Chéri’s love and passion for the former courtesan Léa went unanswered. And so we come to the end of the tale, which I will spoil for you.
The indolent Chéri goes to war (WWI) and returns “unharmed.” In an undefined future, he kills himself with his service revolver. Because of the lost love.
|Lithograph by Jules Cheret in the public domain|
I loved the movie, especially the belle époque costumes, the sumptuous settings, Kathy Bates as Chéri‘s mother Charlotte (also a former courtesan), and Michelle Pfeiffer, a convincing Léa. From a twenty-first century point of view, I doubted that the suicide was a result of a lover’s heartbreak. It seemed more likely to come out of trauma, the result of witnessing firsthand the horrors of war on French soil. Who could have been more sheltered and innocent, than Chéri, surrounded by sex workers, dependent upon their considerable incomes, not able to enter society because of his mother’s career?