Monday, December 17, 2018

Movie Review: Colette

Colette ** / *****
Directed by: Wash Westmoreland.
Written by: Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland & Rebecca Lenkiewicz.
Starring: Keira Knightley (Colette), Dominic West (Willy), Fiona Shaw (Sido), Denise Gough (Missy), Eleanor Tomlinson (Georgie Raoul-Duval), Aiysha Hart (Polaire), Dickie Beau (Wague), Al Weaver (Schwob), Robert Pugh (Jules), Ray Panthaki (Veber), Caroline Boulton (Flossy), Shannon Tarbet (Meg), Rebecca Root (Rachilde), Arabella Weir (Mme De Caillavet).
Ever since seeing Colette, I’ve been trying to figure out why the film didn’t work for me. The story of Colette, a writer in late 19th and early 20th Century is France is fascinating, as it involves intrigue and betrayal and love and lust and controversy. The film is handsomely produced – with gorgeous costumes and art direction. I’ve always loved Keira Knightley – and she looks stunning in this film, and her performance conjures up the right mixture of lust and rage. And yet the whole thing feels rather lifeless.
The story is about Colette (Knightley), who was a young girl from the French countryside, who meets and marries Willy (Dominic West), a writer, and something of a con artist and libertine, who brings her to Paris. He writes under that name – Willy – and he needs another book quick. So, Colette writes the first of four novels in the Claudine series – and it becomes a smash hit. Of course, he gets the credit – and the money – and he continues to press her to write more and more and more – sometimes even locking her in her room and forcing the novels to come. As the novels keep coming, the money keeps coming – but Colette also starts to see Willy for what he really is. And she has other ambitions – on the stage – and other interests off them, particularly in women.
All of this should make for a fascinating and entertaining costume drama. None of that stuffy stuff you usually see in English productions of old time-y writers, but something brimming with passion and anger and lust. And yet, somehow, it doesn’t. Perhaps it is the direction of Wash Westmoreland – who along with his late husband Richard Glatzer, made Still Alice (2014) – the film that finally won Julianne Moore an Oscar. But that film is deadly dull other than Moore’s admittedly great performance. And this film is deadly dull even with Knightley in fine form, and gorgeous costume and art direction. You just never really feel the film. Westmoreland is photographing all this wonderful stuff, but it never really comes alive.
All of that is a shame, because the story the movie is based on is fascinating – and you could probably make another three or four films about Colette about the time period after this film ended, and they would be equally fascinating. But in this film, the filmmakers never really found the right way to tell this story.

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