“Colette”

The Belle Époque Era never looked more gorgeous than in this new period piece based on the first marriage of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The interiors are resplendent; the outside nature scenes verdant. And Keira Knightley has never been better. Add a beautiful original score and this is a not-to-be-missed film.

Colette was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, but many do not know the early story of her first husband, Henri Gautier Villars and how he acquired fame  through ghost writers. His best ghost writer was his young and talented wife, Colette. When she asked for her name to be placed on her Claudine novels, he refused. Like, “The Wife” ( reviewed Sept. 19th, 2018) woman as kingmakers  is the theme of the year, as rightly so given the manosphere times.

Director and co-writer Wash Westmoreland highlights fluid gender and has Colette’s husband, played remarkably by Dominic West, sanction Colette’s lesbian trysts as long as he profits, both physically and financially. He is quite the libertine in frequenting prostitutes and keeping creditors at bay. He sells soap, perfume, fans, and even candy under the Claudine name. “ Since when is scandal  bad thing?”, he coos. When he bends to pick up the post, he inadvertently farts to Colette dismay. “ Intimacy in all its abandon, my dear.” is his response. The writing is good.

West plays Willy, a soldier friend of Colette’s father. He romances the nineteen-year-old Colette with fawning visits and presents. One gift being a snow globe containing the Eiffel Tower. Later, Willy describes the tower as a gigantic erection that he is rather jealous of….and so it goes. Writers Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, and Westmoreland are having fun.

This is a character driven film, and Knightley is a period piece’s dream. She tells Willy that she can read him like the top of an optimologist’s chart. Colette’s mother, Sido ( Fiona Shaw) , played with great nuance after her cruel, step-mother role in the film “Lizzie”, understands her son-in-law, too. “ A mess, a profligate” , Sido ( Colette’s real mother’s name was Adele)  calls him. Willy sells the rights to Colette’s Claudine novels for a mere 5,000 francs, and Colette tells him that he has “killed our child”. We learn from the film’s endnotes that Colette never spoke to Willy again.

Cinematographer Gile Nuttgens does his magic with a cat on an unmade bed, a bejeweled tortoise, velvet sets all in candle glow. Add an original Thomas Ades’ musical score to the lushness and we have a feast of movement interspersed with the silence of writing desks and ink wells. Denise Hough and Eleanor Tomlinson are both deliciously dressed and willing consorts to Colette. I loved it as a feminist coming-of -age story.

“Lizzie: The Legend of Lizzie Borden”

No amount of anger can render the kind of violence shown in the film “Lizzie: The Legend of Lizzie Borden” without labeling the perpetrator a psychopath. Twenty whacks in the face with a hatchet done twice and once stark naked is more than even any abused “me,tooer” can conjure. Sorry, screenwriter Bryce Kass has taken the Lizzie Borden story into the modern era with no awareness of nineteenth-century repressive mores.

The nudity is over the top while it does show maniacal planning. Basically, Lizzie’s intellectual prowess slides into mind numbing revenge for tampering with her freedom. Lizzie is not to leave the house unaccompanied, and her inheritance is strictly controlled. In similar Victorian times, Emily Dickinson, remember, had to seek permission from her father to write at night. Victorian women’s  issues, the class divide, and gender repression were all better seen in the 2017 film “ A Quiet Passion” with Cynthia Nixon playing poet Emily. Not that Chloë Sevigny does not do an admirable job, but the motivation is just not extreme enough~and I argue can never be if Lizzie is to be anything but insane.

The film’s pacing is flawed, too. Except for the violence, “Lizzie” is a  painfully slow film. Even the Shakespearean sonnet reading by gaslights and candles does not make up for days going by petting pigeons and picking pears.

Hateful looks make the thirty-two year old Lizzie ( Chloe Sevigny) look like a rebellious teen. The lesbian sex in the pigeon-house and it’s subsequent thrusting against the hay stacks is for a sensationalized motive~ never proven . Yet, the flashback approach and the August 4th, 1882 beginning shot, that has us looking at the back of Lizzie’s fragile neck while we have thoughts of her step-mother’s soon to be severed, is promising. The screenplay just doesn’t deliver.

The film is well cast with Jaime Sheridan in the role of horny, miserly dad. He tells Lizzie that her epileptic seizures set the family up to ridicule. Denis O’Hare is overtly unctuous as the oily uncle, John Morse; and Kristen Stewart as Irish maid and sexual consort to Lizzie and Father dearest is fawn-like in her victimhood.  Actress Fiona Shaw is a long-suffering, though hateful step-mom. I  like how  she delivers her understated line to her husband, “…I am astonished at the endless ways you find to humiliate yourself and this family.” Kim Dickens is a credible older sister, who happens to be away at a friend’s house when the blood is splattered.

Director Craig William MacNeil can’t do much with a script that edges toward slasher/repressed lesbian suspense noir.

We do see Lizzie as whip-smart and sharp-tongued. When a taunting young woman asks why Lizzie’s family keep their house so dark, Lizzie retorts with the query, “ Are you an Edison? You seem  fixated with illumination.” When Lizzie’s father catches the maid, whom he has forced to have sex with him now with Lizzie, he calls his daughter an abomination. Lizzie coolly responds with, “ At last, we are on equal footing.”

But if you are seeing “Lizzie” to better understand her or to fill in the blanks of her history, you are seeing the wrong historical drama. Missives of the threatening sort, all in the same hand, bombard the family. Mr. Borden is not well-liked. He punishes Lizzie by having her pet pigeons served for dinner. Yet, it deference to their wealthy family, the murder trial is a closed affair. One will have to watch the History Channel to get the facts on these  unsolved murders. The psycho-drama in “Lizzie” did not enlighten or work for me.