Reviewed by: Darren Amner

Set in pre-Second World War Paris, Cheri is a love story between a beautiful retired Courtesan Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Chéri (Rupert Friend), the young son of her colleague and rival Mme Peloux (Kathy Bates). A somewhat unlikely pairing to the eye at first, Lea and Chéri have a six-year love affair battling various elements that try to destroy what they have together. One force is Chéri's mother Peloux, a bitter, spiteful woman, driven by extreme jealously towards Lea and the total opposite of Peloux. Lea is rich, kind and beautiful, even in her forties, who enjoys her well-earned independence.

Chéri, meanwhile, is a thorn in his mother's side, an attractive 19-year-old who enjoys a hedonistic lifestyle but refuses to change his ways, much to his mothers chagrin. But as much as he is a pain to her, he is also her ticket to a better life as she hopes to wed him off to another rich courtesan's daughter in a secretly arranged marriage.

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To prepare him for this, Peloux asks Lea to take Chéri under her wing with a view to making him a better man, a task that Lea is the perfect mentor for. Chéri has a respect for Lea as she is everything his mother is not, and agrees to spend time with her, where he is educated in the art of living and loving.

Initially both build up barriers to maintain total self-control with neither wanting to get too emotionally invested in this budding relationship, however what was meant to last weeks ends up lasting six years until a wedge is driven between them in the form of Peloux and the date of the arranged marriage.

Chéri is a film that will divide audiences. I really enjoyed it, but it is by no means a masterpiece. As a pairing Pfeiffer and Friend do have chemistry and either when bickering or in tender love scenes, it's clear their characters do have a genuine love for each other rather than just passing affection. Pfeiffer will walk away from this with most of the plaudits as her performance is mesmerising, and her delivery smart, tragic and elegant.

As Chéri, Rupert Friend is given the hardest task of all, because his character is so unlikeable, plus the script doesn't give him much to do other than play spoilt and look moody - qualities which at first make it hard for the audience to empathise with. Friend does win you over, however, proving that with a little bit more on the page to work with he could be a rising talent.

The script is, at times, very funny, though the use of a very droll narration is unnecessary and from a narrative point of view the story would have benefited greatly by showing a bit more of the time these two lovers spent together during there six years instead of focusing on the periods when they were apart. Special praise must also go to Kathy Bates, whose rivalry with both Lea and Chéri is engaging and fun. Bates' performance is a great contradiction to Pfeiffer's likable Lea and provides most of the film's humorous moments.

One of my favourite aspects of Cheri was the film's look, Director Stephen Frears made sure he surrounded himself with the best and every department delivers. Frears is not so much interested in camera angles and movements than in the mood of the piece. However, director of photography Darius Khondji lenses the film with lush visuals, as though they have been painted by Picasso, and is one of the best cinematographers working today. The locations used in Chéri look like a picture-perfect postcard and the costumes are delightfully stylish recreations from the period.

Overall Chéri is an enjoyable romantic drama, which though by no means a complete work of art, does have its moments - just not as many as I would have liked.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2009
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An retired courtesan embarks on a passionate love affair with the son of a former colleague.
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Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Colette, Christopher Hampton, Christopher Hampton

Starring: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Rupert Friend, Felicity Jones, Frances Tomelty, Anita Pallenberg, Harriet Walter, Iben Hjejle, Bette Bourne, Gaye Brown

Year: 2009

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: UK


BIFF 2009

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