Twenty-one years after Dangerous Liaisons, director Stephen Frears, screenwriter Christopher Hampton and star Michelle Pfeiffer have reunited to bring the lustful tale of Chéri to life. Based on the novels by Colette (best known for Gigi), Chéri is a slender volume of a period piece brought to vivid life by some excellent performances and top-notch production designs. Overlooked in theaters earlier this year, hopefully the film will be discovered by new admirers with its DVD debutthis week.
Set in Paris toward the end of the Belle Époque, Pfeiffer plays aging courtesan Léa de Lonval, who is asked by her frenemy, Madame Peloux (the always welcome Kathy Bates), to teach her listless son Fred (Rupert Friend) — the chéri of the title — how to be a man. Although his mother just wants him groomed to be married off to produce grandchildren, Chéri and Léa fall deeply in love and cannot survive without each other.
Pfeiffer digs deep into her role as someone whose whole worth is based solely on their beauty, now fading (although, let's face it: even glammed down, Pfeiffer is nothing but stunning). Necessarily, Friend plays Chéri (who has a fondness for ... pearl necklaces?!) as a spoiled Bosie Douglas type, which is a bit off-putting for a character we should be rooting for; however, his frequent nude scenes (showing off his milky skin like a marble statue) more than makes up for his petulant nature.
As in his previous films such as Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters, Frears displays a knack for stories about morally ambiguous women facing the consequences of their lives in their autumn years. Hampton (who won an Oscar for adapting his play Les Liaisons Dangereuses to the screen) shows an economy in his writing here, employing a slightly sardonic narrator to comment on the action throughout.
Special mention must also be made of the finely crafted contributions of cinematographer Darius Khondji, composer Alexandre Desplat, production designer Alan MacDonald and especially costume designer Consolata Boyle, who deserves recognition come award time.
Too bad their works won't be showcased in high definition any time soon, as no Blu-ray release is scheduled at this time. Bonus materials on the DVD include a short "making of" feature and two deleted scenes.