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Colette – Movie Review

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Colette – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

History is filled with stories of women not getting proper credit for their work, so it’s good to see films like Big Eyes and Colette pop up that show the toxic masculinity that can happen in the artistic community. The best parts of Colette involve the performances from its lead performances, but it feels like chunks of history are missing in retelling the rise of the Claudine book series in France. The movie jumps to various points in Colette and Willy’s life and it feels like we’re only getting a fraction of the story. Even the way these books became a national phenomenon is underdeveloped.

Colette is at its strongest when detailing more-so how Colette tries to deal with her sexual urges than the writing of her book series. Keira Knightley does a fantastic job of playing a woman who doesn’t fit into the gender norms of the period, all the while dealing with a husband taking credit for her stories. Dominic West also brings a necessary deceptiveness in playing Willy and allows him to become a truly despicable person. When showing the creative process itself, the film is a bit lacking. Aside from Colette inserting little autobiographical elements into the books, we don’t dig too deeply beyond that. It leads to the film being rather dry at many points.

The movie also requires us to fill in the blank as it jumps forward many months. Why did these books become so successful with the French public? Why did their fashion choices and hairstyles change as a result of Claudine? We get little flashes as to why, but not enough to understand what made the books so special and adored. These time jumps also lead Colette and Willy to be not quite as dimensional as required. Far more interesting is the bond that forms between Colette and artist Mathilde de Morny. The film properly shows the taboos their relationship were breaking and Knightley and Denise Gough have solid chemistry.

From a production standpoint, Colette is well mounted. Director Wash Westmoreland has clearly studied many a lavish period piece, with production designer Michael Carlin and costume designer Andrea Flesch following suit in recreating turn of the 20th century France. Particularly deserving of praise is when the film goes into the theatres when Colette takes on an acting career and it feels like we’re backstage with her. While the writing of Colette’s most famous work Gigi is never brought up, Westmoreland does include visual references, alluding to the musical based on that book. It’s seeing that imagery that the mind clues into who Colette is.

Colette is certainly an admirable attempt at telling her story, but it doesn’t dig deep enough into the writing and the toxic relationship with her credit-stealing husband. One doesn’t even come away understanding what made these books so special and why Claudine struck a chord with the French populace. It’s possible that a biographical mini-series might have been the best route to take as huge chunks feel like they are missing and this feels like the Cliff’s Notes version of the story. It’s an example of a biopic where one wishes to learn more about the subject and the movie is only giving us scraps.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE

Stefan Ellison