Colette - Movie Review by Ben Cahlamer




Directed by Wash Westmoreland

Written by Wash Westmoreland, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and Richard Glatzer

Starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Denise Gough


Oppressed voices, no matter what time we live in, have been a part of our global history. No oppressed voice has been more expressed than that of the voice of women, or lack thereof. Seen as inferior to men, incapable of much and maligned except for wily pleasures of the body, women have been painted in such a way that their struggle to rise above oppression is near difficult.

It’s a man’s world, of course.

Don’t tell that to Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, or Colette as she simply was known. A French novelist who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, her best known work is the novella “Gigi,” the 1958 Audrey Hepburn film.

Keira Knightley stars as the scintillating Colette, a firecracker if there ever was one. Knightley’s composed performance is more about dignity than any other virtue. Yet underneath that composed complexion is a woman waiting for her voice to be heard.

Before the modern, pioneering works found their way into the hands of the masses, Colette, who dreamed of living in the Burgundy countryside and was as audacious as her name suggests married Henry Gauthier – Villars (Dominic West), a publisher and author in his own right.

Villars, a womanizer and a Romeo at the same time (isn’t that a paradox?) adored Colette, but needed a steady stream of income to keep his debtors at bay.  To that end, he coaxed a series of stories out of her, but in his name, the thought being that no one would buy a book with a woman’s name as author.

The books, featuring the character of Claudine, based on her own real-life stories were swept up very quickly by unsuspecting men, and by women who realized that there was someone who had spoken to them; a very relatable character.

Out director Westmoreland (“Still Alice”) is the perfect choice to have taken on this story. Not only does it put modern social issues in the limelight, but for a period piece, it does not shirk or dismiss them so easily. Knightley is, as I mentioned a composed firecracker whose beauty is as stunning as her actions. She and Dominic West light up the screen together.

However, it is when Knightley is with Mathilde de Morny, or Missy played by Denise Gough when the character of Colette blossoms. Westmoreland emphasizes this aspect of Colette and Knightley embraces it. Villars doesn’t mind the interludes, and in fact encourages it.

Giles Nuttgens’ cinematography captures the essence of the period as well as the romantic nature of Paris. There is a cloud that hangs over certain interior set pieces, dampening the mood especially as it relates to Villars’s financial struggles. The exterior shots and those featuring Knightley are profoundly beautiful.

“Colette” is a strong companion piece to Bjorn Runge’s “The Wife” and Knightley is as strong as Glenn Close was though they are not the same character, their struggles were the same.

It is coincidental that I am writing this review and that this film is seeing its release this weekend with the events in the U.S. Congress and the inquiry into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanugh. No matter which era we live in, women still fight hard to make their voices heard, something that should not be a social issue today. Films like “Colette” give strength to that fight.

3.75 out of 4