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Chéri

A pretty tale of love among the Belle Epoque's idle rich

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Lea, we're told, has been a successful courtesan. Now retired in her middle years, she has enough spoils to live comfortably in Paris, and has never made the worst mistake: falling in love. But in a bit of impetuous, slightly spiteful silliness, Lea (Michelle Pfeiffer) seduces Chéri (Rupert Friend), the barely adult playboy son of her bitchy former colleague (Kathy Bates). This leads to -- oh cruel fate -- a genuine love affair disguised as a trifle. Stephen Frears' film, adapted from Colette's novellas, reunites him with Pfeiffer, his luminous star of the 1988's costume drama Dangerous Liaisons. Chéri isn't as charged as that film, and its scope is smaller: Inevitably, Lea and Chéri's dalliance cannot last -- even the feckless son of a courtesan, it seems, must marry correctly. The romantic travails of the idle rich of pre-WWI Europe are dreadfully distant these days, and Frears seems content to keep his film more theatrical and vicariously entertaining than emotionally meaningful. That said, the film is simply gorgeous to look at, from lavish Art Nouveau interiors and meticulously groomed gardens sparkling in the sun to exquisite dresses and chapeaux. The impossibly slim Pfeiffer glows; the Byronic Friend is floppy-haired and limpid-eyed; and even the robustly padded Bates is at least divinely upholstered. I never really cared about any of them, but like exotic butterflies fluttering under a glass dome, I enjoyed watching. Manor

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