In the Belle Epoque of turn-of-the-20th-century
, courtesans were not only generally accepted in high society, but could
occupy significant social standing in their own right.
Michelle Pfeiffer plays Lea de Lonval, a beautiful but aging courtesan
whose long friendship with Madame Peloux (Kathy Bates) means that she has
known her son Cheri (Rupert Friend) all his life.
Except now, at age 19, he’s become something more than just an
annoying little boy running underfoot, Cheri’s become, well, a handsome, if
dissolute, young man. Lea and
Cheri understand each other perfectly, which is why it’s so easy for them to
fall into an affair, though she understands the first rule is to never fall in
When Pfeiffer and Friend are on the screen together, there is kind of a
languid sexual energy, even though the nudity is all very discreet:
backs and legs and shoulders and hip curves.
Unfortunately, Ms. Bates represents a very awkward casting decision.
She’s an accomplished actress, but this teacup and corset role just
does not suit her. She looks
uncomfortable, and then we’re uncomfortable for her.
Eventually, Cheri has to grow up and actually find a real girlfriend
for himself, Edmee (Felicity Jones), someone much closer to his own age. Lea
tries to act blasé and aloof, which is normally standard procedure for her,
but this time she cannot. Despite
herself, she has fallen in love. And
so has he, except now he’d like to have it both ways, to carry on with his
wife and continue with Lea on the sly. But
for once in her life, Lea doesn’t want to be “the other woman” for
Cheri. The problem is, there are
now no longer any happy endings for this unexpected relationship.
And they have to ask themselves if they’re in love with each other,
or in love with the idea of love, and the ideal of one another.
Pfeiffer, still strikingly beautiful at 50, is excellent in this unique
role, but there just isn’t enough help, with the script or the surrounding
cast, to make “Cheri” anything more than another fancy-costume high-tea
period piece, unevenly delivered.
What are the distinctions and gradations between
hooker and courtesan?
What’s the biblical view of prostitution?
(see also Genesis 38)
have you fallen in love when you least expected it?
What did you do about it?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace