July 15th, 2009


We went to the Downer Theatre July 5th to see "Chéri," the new film starring Michelle Pfeiffer and based on the novels "Chéri," and "Le Fin de Chéri" by Colette.
Pfeiffer plays Lea de Lonval, the protagonist, who is the most influential of her generation of grandes horizontals, most of whom have now "retired". She is considering it as well, but hesitates, perhaps because she sees that the other members of her circle have decayed into a collection of more or less grotesque crones who only reminisce about their past conquests. Lea, who still possesses grand beauty and fabulous taste (as expressed in her smashing Belle Époque wardrobe and magnificent Art Moderne townhouse) grasps at the compromise offered her by friend Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates), which is to take up Peloux's son, Freddy (a.k.a. the "Chéri" of the title) (Rupert Friend), who is a handsome and dashing nineteen years old. The story tells us that the courtesan's son has been living a life of debauchery since he was sixteen, and his mother wants to save him from worse things. Both Lea and Cheri enter into the relationship willingly, and spend the next six years in an idyl, dividing their time between Lea's Paris house and her Normandy estate. (One rather fantasy element of the plot is that Lea and her friends all seem to have invested their earnings wisely, and are all comfortably rich, if not more so--.)
The long dream comes to an end when Madame Peloux decides that the next stage in raising her son is for him to marry, and she announces that she has arranged a marriage for him with the sheltered daughter of another compatriot, the not-yet-retired Marie Laure (Iben Hjejle). Putting supposed logic ahead of love, Lea and Chéri agree to his wedding young Edmee (Felicity Jones).
How events unravel to an unhappy end is the substance of the plot, which is well acted by Pfeiffer, Friend, and Jones, supported by the always interesting Bates and a cast of veteran European actors. The film is a visual treat, lushly photographed on locations in Paris, Biarritz, and sites in Germany, which probably stood in for Normandy. The dialog is witty and wicked, and there are some very tasteful sex scenes.
We enjoyed the film very much, and would recommend it for fans of art cinema. Obviously, the plot makes if appropriate for adults only: it carries an R rating, but it is a "soft" R.

More on "Beauty on the Beast".

We've finished our first weekend and are all very happy with the way
things have worked out. The show has played to good houses, and audience
reaction has been excellent. "Be Our Guest" got an unprecedented
show-stopping ovation on opening night, which was followed by a
unanimous standing ovation at the end of the show, which I don't recall
having had before. Admittedly, community arts audiences tend to be a bit
"easy" for this sort of thing, salted as they are with family and
friends of the performers, but I was impressed by the immediacy and
spontaneity of the response, which underscores its sincerity to me.

A number of my friends made it to the Saturday show, at least one of
whom pronounced it "miraculous." Indeed, the production staff have done
a great lot with a very little. I hadn't known that opinion on the
group's boards about doing the show was very divided as to whether it
could be done decently on a community theatre budget, but that question
has been decisively answered. A clever if simple set design helped
immensely, as did the combined efforts of the costumers and cast to beg,
borrow, scrounge, and make outfits. (As is frequently the case with me,
my entire costume, from eyeglasses to shoes, came from my own closet--.)
The small but talented orchestra provides the necessary musical support
with great effect. The show continues this weekend, closing Sunday