If history teaches us anything, it’s that we are bound to make the same mistakes over and over again until we simply stop making them. If you think about all the prevalent themes of today: namely regarding gender roles, toxic relationships, and what defines masculine/feminine, you’ve got to stop and remember that all this shit has happened before… and before, and before that.
With this idea in mind, I went and saw Colette today…
The film is based on the early life of French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. From humble beginnings as a country girl in Burgandy, Gabrielle (Keira Knightley) marries a famous Parisian writer (Dominic West), and then becomes engulfed in a toxic marriage in which her husband serially sleeps with other women, and convinces her to use her talent to ghostwrite novels under his name. She creates a semi-autobiographical novel, Claudine, which takes Paris by storm with her husband getting all the credit. Forced to keep up the charade, Colette becomes increasingly frustrated, both sexually and economically, and soon begins to fight to make her talents known, challenging society’s gender norms along the way.
This film is a modest, but wonderfully sincere, biopic that beautifully informs and engages audiences with a figure that they may or may not have heard of before. I admit I had no idea who this movie was about before I saw it and now I have to say that I am quite intrigued to see if I can track down some of Colette’s work for my library.
While the story is very simple in that it chronicles the foundation and eventual breakdown of a marriage, where the film sparkles is with its fascinating depiction of a toxic and creative marriage in the early part of the 20th century. Set against the backdrop of Paris, which already boasts a certain sensual openness and libration, the entire film is a delicious peek through the keyhole into an intimate world and what’s most interesting about the whole thing is that there is a certain level of balance and love between the two parties.
Keira Knightley plays the title role with a graceful force, innocently breaking glass ceilings through her fashion and determination to be seen as more than a wife. Hers is a story of identity as well as the remoulding of gender roles and Keira is mesmerising to watch.
Dominic West as Willy is witty, aggressive, and pretentious, yet despite openly being a right bastard and a very toxic narcissist, he does have this strange, endearing quality that somehow keeps the two together for the duration of the film. As he and Colette blur the definitions of infidelity, breadwinner, husband, and wife, Willy throughout the entirety does have this sincere streak of love that he holds solely for his wife and West plays the role so well that it’s kind of hard to completely hate him –even though it’s evident that he’s the bad guy.
Whether this is a play on social conditioning or just my delving deeper into West’s performance is anyone’s guess, but at the end of the day the two leads were wonderfully captivating!
Being a biopic and a period piece, I must draw attention to the fantastic achievements of the costume department. The costumes and makeup achievements were absolutely beautiful with Keira’s wardrobe being this seamless –pardon the pun- transition from feminine to masculine. Every scene she was in, she looked absolutely gorgeous!
Like Orlando (1992) or The Danish Girl (2015), Colette has a certain je ne se quoi that keeps its audience captivated because it’s a depiction of something very ‘normal’, –a marriage- something that most of the audience can relate to, but at the same time it’s depicting a marriage that is unlike any that we can imagine. It just goes to show that when it comes to relationships, you never know what goes on behind closed doors.