By midlandsmovies, Jan 17 2019 05:09PM
Colette (2019) Dir. Wash Westmoreland
This biographical drama comes from Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland and is based upon the life of French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature she is also famous for her 1944 novella Gigi which was the basis for the film of the same name.
Colette covers the early part of her life with Keira Knightley returning from an acting break as the lead woman whose first writings were published under the pen name of “Willy” – a nickname for her husband Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West). She writes a series of stories revolving around “Claudine”, a fictionalised version of her own life which is filled with avant-garde parties and lesbian liaisons.
However, much like in the film Big Eyes (Tim Burton), Colette soon demands her name be revealed as the real author of the stories which her husband resists and which subsequently causes riffs between them. The film is told in a linear fashion and for a film about writing, sadly has too few literary trappings and most reminded me of the standard fare of Merchant Ivory period dramas – but with added liberal and progressive flourishes.
Knightley is solid and Dominic West plays the uptight, sleazy type of macho husband that he often excels in – but is one actor I have never thought has much of a range and he does little to correct that here in Colette.
As Colette’s will becomes more determined, the film delves into notions of masculinity and femininity and whilst swanning into boisterous parties one night in extravagant dresses, she partakes in serious muscular exercise the following day. The cinematography is fascinating as it captures beautiful French scenery as well as bawdy get-togethers exploring both public and private spaces.
The film however concludes with her departure from literature into her mime and stage career displaying her fight for female independence at a time where female respectability was considered paramount and she moves from exercising her mind to the physicality of her body.
Therefore Colette is certainly progressive and honourable – telling a little-known tale of creative and wanton passions – but if I’m honest I found little “life” in the film. Also, there was a very palpable chemistry vacuum between the two leads, yet the excellent support from Eleanor Tomlinson, Aiysha Hart and Fiona Shaw helps ease these gaps.
A melodrama of women’s independence, I would recommend Colette for those interested in the film’s central historical subject matter but for many others, the film – as respectful as it is – dips into blandness, both technically and narratively.