“Colette”–A Woman Ahead of Her Time

 

Colette movie

Guest reviewer: Barbara Donsky, author of the memoir, Veronica’s Grave

 

“Colette,” opens in the countryside of rural France as we meet the young Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) at home in Burgundy. In short order, a successful Parisian writer known as “Willy” (Dominic West) pays a visit to Saint-Saveur-en-Puisaye, and before long he and Sidonie are enjoying an energetic romp in the hayloft. Soon after, Sidonie (destined to be known simply as ‘Colette’) is installed as his wife in Paris.

But when Willy begins having problems with creditors, he convinces her to write a novel under his name. In fact, he locks her in a room! “Write!” he bellows. So she pens a story about a sassy country girl, “Claudine,” which becomes a literary sensation. Willy wants yet another novel from her and another. And so it goes. She will not write a book under her own name until she breaks with Willy, a wily philanderer, in 1906.

In fin de siècle Paris, Colette will go from enabling wife to the grand-mere of feminist literature and a bisexual adventuress. In this beautifully filmed biographical drama, you can track her transformation by her clothing—from the yellow country dress to the mannish suits. When her husband buys her an expensive Parisian gown— at a time when society ladies were dripping in jewels and wearing extravagant designs— she wants no part of it. Indeed, her idol was Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, who wrote under the pen name George Sand and preferred wearing men’s clothing.   Colette the movie

Colette’s self-confidence changed a country girl into a fashion icon, the most photographed woman of her time. Doing so, according to the director Wash Westmoreland, at a time when a woman could have been arrested in Paris for wearing men’s clothing.

The film is a joy! Oscar-whispers are circulating for Kiera Knightley.

 

Note: Barbara Donsky’s last review for us was “Cezanne et Moi” –Artistic Jealousy (June 27, 2017)

Cezanne et Moi–Artistic Jealousy

Cezanne et Moi

Guest blogger: Barbara Donsky, the award-winning author of the memoir Veronica’s Grave,  is posting for the second time–“Cezanne et Moi”– for my website. [Her first guest feature was “The Innocents” –And War” on July 16, 2016. For the unedited version of this review go to Barbara Donsky’s blog, www.desperatelyseekingParis.com, –“Cezanne and Zola”]

Cézanne et Moi portrays the troubled friendship between the Post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne (played by Guillaume Gallienne) and the Nobel Prize-nominated novelist Émile Zola (Guillaume Canet).

Young Zola is so poor he catches birds so he and his mother can eat. Cézanne, on the other hand, comes from a privileged background but is bullied by an austere and imposing father.

The biopic Cezanne et Moi traces their tumultuaous friendship from early school days to nights of debauchery and eventually to a reversal in social standing.  Cézanne, disheartened by the success of the Impressionist painters, forges ahead trying to find a way forward from Impressionism to what we now know as modern art. His early efforts meet with disdain in a world still captivated by the works of the Impressionists. Cezanne et Moi

Although Zola comes to his friend’s defense, Cézanne’s pride remains wounded. The arguments and jealousies increase, in part because Zola, after the publication of a few novels, has become a wealthy man.   Eventually they have a falling out over Zola’s “L’Oeuvre,” a fictionalized depiction of Cézanne’s life as a loser and failed artist.   When Zola’s novel met with great acclaim, Cézanne accused Zola of ‘selling out’, of siding with the bourgeoisie.

Adding more misery to their relationship is Alexandrine, Cézanne’s previous lover, who marries Zola.  Years later, Cézanne, against his family’s wishes, would live for many years with another woman made famous by his paintings of ‘Madame Cezanne’. if a woman his family regarded as beneath them socially.

That these two geniuses, temperamentally 180 degrees apart, should have met and befriended one another seems improbable, and yet it happened. And the world is richer for it—if not the women who loved them and lived with them. Cezanne et Moi is a family saga with twists and turns any viewer and writer would love.

“The Innocents”—And War

Guest blogger: Barbara Donsky, author of the memoir Veronica’s Grave,  and blog owner of www.desperatelyseekingParis.com  For the unedited version of this review go to Barbara Donsky’s blog

 

Les innocentes
Les innocentes

Writers and film-makers continue to successfully mine stories stemming from World War II. “The Innocents”  is such a film—a Polish-French venture by the director Anne Fontaine that takes place in December 1945. Based on real events as described by Madeleine Pauliac, a French Red Cross doctor who had served with French troops in war-torn Poland, the film illuminates the various crises of faith that befall a convent of nuns who have been ravaged by marauding Russian troops who forced their way into the monastery and raped the helpless women.

Traumatized by their harrowing experiences, the nuns, having taken vows of chastity, are incapable of dealing with the violations of their bodies and their vows. None escapes the humiliation and shame of what has befallen them, no matter how unwarranted that shame might be.

How can God, in all His mercy,  allow such a terrible thing to happen to these unprotected sisters? What is the meaning of this diabolical turn of events? And what’s to become of the children?

The steely Reverend Mother (Agata Kulesza) is, above all, concerned that this scandal—a convent filled with pregnant nuns—not become public, as it could shred the authority of the Catholic Church. As the film engages the viewer from moral, spiritual and institutional perspectives, it brings to mind more recent scandals and institutional crises involving the Catholic Church that have, indeed, contributed to a weakening of religious institutions.

Filmed in muted tones by Caroline Champetier, the spare observational cinematography is magnificent—perfectly in keeping with the prayerful calm and simplicity of a Benedictine monastery, with the silence observed by the nuns at meals, and with the purity of the Angelus as sung at break of day, noon and evensong.

If the upbeat ending is unexpected, “The Innocents” is a blistering war movie by talented women about strong women looking out for one another and doing what needs to be done to survive.

Note:  “The Innocents” (Les Innocentes) is now in limited release at theaters nationwide.