Film Review: Colette

 

A hidden gem in French biographical history, Colette emerges as a blissful and scandalous piece of cinema, detailed with finite and illustrious mise-en-scene and an alluring soundtrack. Despite some awkward transitions between the events on screen, Wash Westmoreland’s film relays the untold story in a delicate and refined manner, giving voice to a woman who stands strongly in the realms of French literature.

Transcending from the rural French farmlands to the blue cobblestone streets of Paris, Colette follows the story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley), a creative and resilient woman who exhibits a captivating recollection of her experiences growing up. After marrying the pompous yet successful writer Willy (Dominic West), Colette becomes tied to writing stories for her husband’s company to prevent the decline of sales and avert the threat of the company’s demise.

Keira Knightley and Dominic West in Collette. Photo: Transmission Films

Keira Knightley and Dominic West in Collette. Photo: Transmission Films

As a testimony to her childhood, Colette encapsulates herself into the life of her protagonist, Claudine, writing with delicacy and a multitude of adjectives whilst giving light to her past which she has grown to significantly appreciate.

Yet, as the success of the Claudine stories reach groundbreaking heights, the newfound author learns she must defy gender norms, reclaim what is rightfully hers and ultimately, rediscover her own identity.

With a unique focus on marital dysfunction, the corruption of power and the temptation of sexual awakening,  Colette stands out as a prominent piece of French biography, and a lesson to never forget who you are.

Keira Knightley in Colette. Photo: Transmission Films

Keira Knightley in Colette. Photo: Transmission Films

A nation of beauty and sophistication , it is always pleasing to travel through the countryside and cities of France. As one segment of the film’s mise-en-scene, the various settings are effective in evoking sentiments of delight and captivation as well as a sense of anticipation, constantly begging the question of, ‘Where to next?!’

Starting one scene in open expanses of lush green farmland, we then move to the bustling French capital, with the Eiffel Tower looming delicately outside four-paned glass windows of ornate and wealthy residences. Tie this in with Andrea Flesch’s vivid and intricate costume design, consisting of petticoats, bowler-hats, bow-ties and frilly blouses, and we are presented with a piece of cinema that is not only historically accurate but visually stunning to look at as well. If only it could be the early 20 thcentury every day in France…

The acting performances within the film are also to be highly commended. Known for her work as a pirate, a duchess and more recently as a sugar plum fairy, Knightley excels once again, portraying her complex character of Colette in a bold and striking way – whenever she was on screen, there was a noticeable electricity present in the air.

In addition, West effectively showcases his egotistical character of Willy in a highly believable and authentic manner – there was always an underlying dislike fueled towards him as he danced on tabletops or gave self-important speeches to his alcohol-infused acquaintances. Supporting talents of Eleanor Tomlinson ( The Illusionist 2006) and Denise Gough ( Robin Hood2010) are also to be acknowledged for their presence within the film, providing a quality performance in their short on-screen times respectively.

Keira Knightley and Ray Panthaki in Colette. Photo: Transmission Films

Keira Knightley and Ray Panthaki in Colette. Photo: Transmission Films

One of the most significant successes; the musical score, provides the film with contrast and depth while evoking sentiments of elation and comfort from the audience. Intense confrontational scenes are accompanied by an ominously subtle tune which gradually escalates in vehemence. Montage sequences incorporate fast-paced traditional music, which frequently diverge to become bouncy and lively.

It is always extremely pleasing to be able to walk out of a cinema and appreciate a film largely based on its musical score – the music composer for the film, Thomas Adès, is to be highly commended for his efforts.

Keira Knightley and Dominic West in Collette. Photo: Transmission Films

Keira Knightley and Dominic West in Collette. Photo: Transmission Films

Originally introduced in Australia as part of the British Film Festival, Colette is a delightful film for its efforts in staying so close to the story of one inspiring woman . Although some of the scene transitions are dealt with a little clumsily, the film of a 1hr 50 minute run-time incorporates an abundance of quality dotted throughout the narrative whilst maintaining a strong audience engagement; laughs and softened squeals often arose within the cinema.

Like the success of the Claudine stories, the success of this film lies at its core of being creative and imaginative, with just the right amount of controversy to spice things up!   Let’s now hope for more biographical brilliances like this.


9/10

Colette is out in cinemas nationally from Thursday December 20

 
Nick Angus