Monday, 24 December 2018

Colette (2018) - Movie Review of the better reasons for the continued existence of period dramas is that, in a historical sense, it can help brings modern-day issues into perspective. There’s only so much clamouring about "it’s just a trend" or "yeah, now you care about all this" when it comes to any social issue before it becomes quite grating to have to rebut over and over again. Since cinema is a great tool when it comes to information, and global history has all sorts of little nuggets that the world could use some reminders of, it can make for some rather revelatory moments. Like this film, the latest from writer/director Wash Westmoreland about a pioneering French writer and her struggle for recognition.

Aside from the odd American in the character listing, this is a very French story. This is obvious, but this has that approach where all of the predominantly British actors maintain their accents, despite even writing in the native language. However, where this should be somewhat off-putting actually comes across like the best approach possible, considering Keira Knightley in the title role. She is many things, but being convincing with accents is not one of them, as seen earlier this year in The Nutcracker and even a few years back with whatever Ruth Westheimer impression she was doing in A Dangerous Method.

Because of that, she is able to perform without that barrier between her and her words, and what a performance she gives as a result! As the quite forward-thinking and trend-bucking author and performer, she is brilliant and shows a level of strength that… well, to be honest, I haven’t seen from her since the legendary “try wearing a corset” scene from Curse Of The Black Pearl. All on her own, she has that intoxicating charisma that puts fire behind her words, which only makes it even better when she comes to verbal blows with her utter cad of a husband in Dominic West’s Willy. Yes, Willy, because outright calling him ‘Dick’ would’ve been too obvious.

Okay, I kid, but honestly, the relationship between them is endlessly enthralling, both as a showcasing for the incredible wit of the dialogue and as a depiction of all the sexual politics. It is frankly staggering just how much ground this manages to cover in terms of sexuality, bringing that oh-so-French approach to la petite mort in its many facets.

Open relationships, same-sex attraction, even a showing of genderqueer through Mathilde de Morny and his relationship with Colette; it’s quite liberating to watch unfold, especially with Willy By Name And By Nature serving as an avatar for a lot of the more toxically male approaches to sex, hypocrisies and all. Watching him try to explain why him having sex with another woman and Colette having sex with another woman are two entirely different situations, where one deserves more concern than the other, is all too real in how condescending it is. Then again, coming from a director who got his start with Bruce LaBruce, this level of sexual awareness should be expected.

But what makes the depictions of sexuality work as well as they do are mainly because, alongside the quite sharp writing, it all lends itself to the character arc of Colette herself. The writer trapped under the thumb of her husband, who takes all the credit while keeping her locked in a writing room to get the work done. The woman trapped in a bizarre position where the people are accepting of her sexual tastes, but only to the point where it appeals to men (director Wash Westmoreland also did porn earlier on in his career, and that shows in how telling that perspective is to mainstream sexual voyeurism). The person who wants to be her own woman, but both internal and external pressures prevent her from doing so.

Rather than just restricting her persona to that of a hard-done-by creative, as earlier works like The Wife and even Big Eyes to a lesser extent did, that becomes only a part of the bigger picture that is her. It’s an exceptionally powerful feminist piece, partly because it deals in honest liberation but also because, like the true form of feminism, it is intersectional and takes more than just gender into account. It’s a progressive period drama that, much like Mary Queen Of Scots, earns extra points because that progressivism holds up to historical scrutiny. It’s almost like these issues have been around for a really long time or something(!)

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