“COLETTE”— A Story of Female Liberation

“Colette” A Story of Female Liberation Amos Lassen The film “Colette” that is based on the real life of the celebrated French author, is a story of female liberation.  During the Belle Epoque period in Paris at the turn of the 20th Century in society men were openly promiscuous and wives were expected to demurely look the other way. Colette, however,  had liaisons of her own and they were with women and she entered into them with her husband’s consent.
The movie starts with young Colette (Keira Knightley) still living at her home in the country now in with her fretful mother (Fiona Shaw) and war-hero father (Robert Pugh) in poverty.  She is courted surreptitiously by Henry Gauthier-Villars, aka  “Willy,” (Dominic West), a family friend, and even though he is just 20 years old and Colette has no dowry they end up married and moving to Paris. Willy was a popular author and critic whose work was provided by a  “factory” of writers that he mercilessly exploited.   Always living a lavish lifestyle way above his means, he was constantly broke, and one occasion he even forced, Colette to become part of his workforce.   He initially rejected her first novel as being too insipid but then demanded it a bit more spice.
This was the first of the Claudine books and was a huge success making Willy very rich and even more notorious. Refusing to share any of the success with Colette,  he did however buy her a beautiful cottage in the country, but purely as a means to ‘imprison’ her so that she could write another bestseller to be published under his name.  Although there were times like this when Willy bullied Collette, their relationship was never straight forward. There was a deep bond between the two of them,  and she never left him when she discovered his infidelities, although she did almost want to kill him when she discovered that he was also sleeping with her own lover Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson).
It was Colette’s insistence that her name go on the latest book as co-author and this was the beginning of the end of her relationship with Willy.  Now in a relationship with the cross-dressing Mathilde de Morny, or Missy (Denise Gough) with whom she took up a career on the stage with and she finally got to publish her first novel under her own name.  Wash Westmorelanddirected the film that handled Colette’s same-sex relationships with clearunderstanding and sympathy and with no l sensationalism. Knightley gives an extraordinarily mature performance which could be her career best.  Her‘Colette’ was fiercely determined, independent, extremely relatable  and ajoy to watch.  She was matched beautifully by a boisterous performance byWest as her husband.  French novelist and feminist icon Colette, nee Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, has been fodder for abiographical film for some time. She was an institution at the time of herdeath in 1954, and her life was filled with enough glamor, struggle, andscandal to warrant the drama of this celebrity biopic. The film indulges insuch theatricality while delivering an acutely told story of the writer thatrelishes the messy details and ambivalences of her life.
Following Colette’s  formative years, from the mid-1890s until 1910, the film tracks her development from a penniless country girl to her rise to literary fame.  The film’s script is witty and basically focuses on the dynamismof Willy and Colette’s marriage, especially on their back-and-forths. Colette doesn’t stay under Willy’s shadow for long. Herpush for independence is encouraged by her affair with noblewoman and artistMathilde de Morny (Denise Gough), who goes by Missy and scandalizes France withher masculine dress and choice of male pronouns. Her romance with Colette is seenbut not in detail and the film regrettably makes Missy little more than amouthpiece for a modern perspective on Colette. The film is much too focused on Colette’sidiosyncrasies and personal struggles to cast her as a renegade who shook upthe status quo.  Westmoreland’s biopic brings more than a touch of camp to its dramatization of an unbelievabletrue story. It is a fun and that is all that it needs to be.

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