Name the film I'm thinking of.
It's a period film starring Michelle Pfeiffer, written by Christopher
Hampton from a vintage French novel, and directed by Stephen Frears, in
which two scheming French seducers wile away their dotage manipulating the
lives of youngsters. Personal tragedy ensues when one of the calculating
puppet-masters falls in love with one of the innocents, a love which is
prevented by the machinations of the other sophisticate.
What's that? You guess Dangerous Liaisons?
Wrong. Not the one I was thinking of. Hey, you should have known
because I'm supposed to be writing about Cheri, which was adapted from two
stories by Colette, "Cheri" and "The Last of Cheri."
It's like Dangerous Liaisons 2: the Wrath of Valmont. And it's not up to
the usual standard of Stephen Frears.
Starting with Dangerous Liaisons, Frears has created several excellent
- (7.60) - The Queen
- (7.60) - Dangerous
- (7.60) - High
- (7.50) - Dirty Pretty
- (7.10) - Mrs
Henderson Presents (2005)
- (7.00) - Liam
- (7.00) - The Grifters
But there has been one noticeable failure in his recent filmography: a
film called Mary Reilly, rated 5.5 at IMDb, which also was scripted by
Christopher Hampton. Perhaps that was a bad omen for Cheri. Not only does
this film feel like a
Dangerous Liaisons copycat, albeit placed a century later, but it also
suffers from a script which includes very little forward motion and in
which the most interesting things occur off-camera and/or are recited to
us by the omniscient narrator. Frears and Hampton both have tendencies
toward the prolix, but in this case, the script is all yakking with no
visual payoff, as both author and director seem to have forgotten that
film narrative is visual and not something to be followed with our eyes
closed as if we were listening to a book-on-tape. Even the film's tragic
final surprise is simply narrated to us matter-of-factly. Imagine if Star
Wars had ended with the rebels sailing through space toward the death star
while a narrator told us "Oh, yeah, they won, destroyed the death star.
Got some medals. It was pretty cool. Too bad you couldn't have seen it."
This film has that kind of ending. It's not anti-climactic, but
And frankly, for a film about sex and prostitutes, it is excessively
delicate in its sensibilities. For example, the film has several sex
scenes or potential sex scenes, but they are all castrated by editing and
lighting. Either we are forced to watch two barely discernable shapes
rolling around in stygian darkness, or the camera cuts away discreetly,
just as it becomes apparent that sex is about to occur. If you didn't
recognize the actors, you might think this film had been made in 1939.
On the other hand, 1939 was a good year. The lavish Victor Fleming
style of filmmaking had its advantages. When Frears is not focused on the
plot, the visuals are splendid. There are old-time motorcars being driven
through a beautiful French countryside by handsome men and women in
gorgeous costumes, as photographed by helicopters. There are impeccably
decorated Belle Epoque interiors and the lush, manicured gardens of stately
The film can also count among its positives the radiance of Michelle
Pfeiffer, a beauty which stands virtually alone in modern screen history.
She has a face as beautiful or more beautiful than Jolie's or Megan Fox's,
with none of their aloofness, eccentricity, or insouciance. Pfeiffer is
beautiful, yet also obviously normal and approachable, with compassionate,
expressive eyes. There are very few 50+ women who could fit believably
into this role as the lust object of a 25-year-old man, but Pfeiffer is
utterly convincing in that capacity. Her body is as slim and narrow as a
teenager's. Her chin hasn't the slightest sag. She has only the faintest
hint of crow's feet. She is still beautiful, not qualified by "for a woman
of 50," but just plain beautiful.
So Cheri is not without merit. Prepare to be dazzled by elegance.
But, lord-a-mercy, is this film dull and talky!