Overall Grade: B
Date Movie Grade: C
Girls' Night Grade: B+
Overview: Although Cheri, like its title character, does not reach the depth it strives for, it nonetheless is an enjoyable picture—for those who like the period piece genre.
Cheri takes place in France during the years leading up to World War I, a period known as the Belle Epoque, when people treasured beauty, wealth and decadence. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as an aging courtesan, Lea de Lonval, who is considered the most beautiful and desirable woman in her trade. A courtesan, explains a male narrator at the beginning of the film, is a woman who uses her sexuality to accumulate vast fortunes from wealthy men. In other words, an intelligent, witty prostitute. Read: Prostitution: A Recession-Free Gig?
We are thrown into the plot right at the start, as Lea visits another retired courtesan, Charlotte Peloux (Kathy Bates), and her son, the 19-year-old playboy, Cheri (Rupert Friend). Cheri is tired of his life of drinking and women, and Lea is on the verge of retirement, unsure of what life has in store for her. When they reconnect, their attraction is instantaneous and their affair begins as the two kiss on the sunporch while Cheri's mother watches from inside. The couple moves to one of Lea's homes and the sex scene between them exudes both an erotic sensuality as they pleasure one another and a fulfillment of finding what each has been longing for. It is almost as if each is equally seducing the other.
Although their affair just began (it is only a few minutes into the film), the movie jumps ahead six years where we see Cheri has been living with Lea. At this point the film's conflicts arise as Lea learns that Charlotte has arranged a marriage for her son, so that he can have a family. What transpires is a game of back and forth that is fraught with emotion, manipulation and sexual desire. Read: Decoding Female Desire: What Makes Us Tick?
Cheri is directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen) and was written for the screen by Christopher Hampton (Atonement) based on the novel by the French writer Colette. Frears and Hampton brought us the stunning Dangerous Liaisons in 1989, starring Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Pfeiffer.