Film

Chéri (2009)


Chéri

Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer,Rupert Friend, Kathy Bates, Felicity Jones
Distributor: Miramax Home Video
Studio: Miramax Films
UK Release Date: 2009-10-20
US Release Date: 2009-10-20

The tragedy of faded beauty has long been a source of literary melodramatics. While limiting in its assessment of female value, it does strike a chord amongst those who view their worth through such slippery sliding scales as talent, skill, and attraction. In her slyly satiric novels Chéri and La Fin de Chéri, famed French author Colette commented on the Belle Époque era of Parisian society with its celebrated prostitutes, idle wealth, and decadent attitudes. Using the story of a retired madam's son, his wayward youth, and the older woman who would finally teach him about love, the novels contrasted passion with the plain truth, arguing emotional completeness vs. social responsibility. They also addressed the notion of aging and its aftermaths head on.

Now director Stephen Frears brings us his witty, droll adaptation of Colette's works, offering Michelle Pfeiffer one of her best roles in years. She is Léa de Lonval, friend of former escort Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates). Hoping to steer her son away from the aimless debauchery he insists on partaking in, the women conspire to set Chéri (Rupert Friend) straight. What at first seems like a few weeks in the countryside sewing some wild oats turns into an epic love affair between the boy and Léa. Six years go by and everything is bliss - that is, until Madame Peloux demands grandchildren. Arranging a marriage for Chéri with Edmée (Felicity Jones), the daughter of another former 'fallen woman', she sets in motion a series of events that will bring both Léa and her lover to the brink of utter heartbreak.

Clever, charming, and slightly superficial, Chéri is the kind of pert period piece that gets by on a great deal of creative goodwill. For all its narrative flaws - and there are many - we still admire Frears' delicate direction, the pitch-perfect performances of Pfeiffer, Friend, and Bates, and the consistently catty dialogue from screenwriter Christopher Hampton. This is a movie filled with brilliant putdowns, cutting asides, bubbly bon mots, and enough backhanded compliments to make a contemporary coffee klatch jealous. In the name of gossip and glorified one-upmanship, our haughty heroines use words like weapons, hoping to inflict a little damage during their breakneck back and forth. Pfeiffer and Bates excel in these moments, leaving a memorable impression about the rivalries and responsibilities of being the former toast of the upper crust sex trade.

Where Chéri stumbles a bit, however, is in the relationship between the title character and Léa. We can see the attraction on both sides - Pfeiffer looks stunning, even in her 'aged' demeanor, while Friend is all smooth muscled sensuality. The narration keeps us abreast of their developing love, even referencing their occasional spats as nothing more than the arguments experienced by any 'married' couple. But they don't have the same level of discourse as they do with others around them. Hampton's words let these characters down time and time again. Maybe we are to assume that neither Léa nor Chéri is capable of being truly open and honest. Perhaps it's simply the way things were in turn of the century society. Gender and power certainly come into play. Yet for all the sensationally snide and humorous quips traded, Chéri can't work up a decent romantic exchange.

Of course, with Frears fabulous work behind the lens, we tend to forgive such flaws. Chéri is a sensational movie to look at, a lush and opulent work that doesn't go overboard on the gaudiness or glitz of the era. Instead, the director lets nature do most of the work, gorgeous garden settings and sky blue oceans reminding us of how painfully beautiful the world can be. Even in the baroque homes and hideaways owned by our hookers, Frears is never indulgent. We recognize that these women have means and money. But they also have the sense to realize where it came from, how hard it is to keep, and how to manage it practically while living the good life. All of this is reflected in Frears' approach. While not necessarily realistic, it does tend to tone down the more arch elements of Colette's canvas.

But it’s the emotional beats that are supposed to stir us, the raw lust between Léa and Chéri, the sickening realization that age is slowing destroying their special bond. Indeed, Pfeiffer is excellent in those moments when every little wrinkle, every mention of the past, becomes a telling thorn in her side. Similarly, Friend must "grow up" and take on the responsibilities of a gentlemen, even if his status came from less noble origins. But he's just not believable, not in any rational, understandable way. Instead, Chéri often comes across as whiny, brattish, and too high maintenance to be worth the carnal benefits. We never see a real sense of reciprocity. He's all puppy dog longing. She's watching her last chance at youth slowly slip away. One half of the movie is very powerful and prescient. The other gets lost and then limps along.

Still, there's enough here to warrant attention, especially for those who remember the last time Frears, Pfeiffer, and Hampton collaborated (1988's Oscar fave Dangerous Liaisons). Chéri may not contain the same authority and intensity as that previous powerhouse, but it's clear that when these artists get together, something special usually happens. While the recently released DVD highlights how happy everyone is to be working together again, what's clear is that this latest result pales in comparison. You'll laugh at this look at faded beauty. You'll also feel bad for the women who've worked exceptionally hard to find a way to live beyond the prying eyes of their snooty, snobby peers. But when the core conflict arises, when we are asked to sympathize with Chéri's plight and his love for Léa, something goes missing. For the most part, this movie is marvelous. It's the empty bits that prove the most problematic.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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