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“Colette”: Literature Icon on the Big Screen

Rated R
111 Minutes
Released September 21

My grandmother had a collection of Colette’s books, which I used to read with a flashlight at night when everyone thought I was asleep. Colette is an icon of literature whose accomplishments deserve a film. She was born in the Burgundy countryside in France in 1873 and was educated in public schools. Her mother taught her the importance of careful observation. Her first husband, Willy, introduced her to the avant-garde literary circles in Paris during the Belle Epoque period at the end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. Colette said that she would never have become a writer had it not been for Willy. However he published her work under his name and gave her no access to the profits of her books. Colette divorced Willy and subsequently reinvented herself many times throughout her life. It would seem that the one constant in her life was her writing. In 1944 she published perhaps her most famous work, the novel “Gigi.” After Colette’s death in 1954 in Paris, she was given a state funeral, the first French female author to receive that honor.

The relationships we choose and how they affect our lives is a key element of this movie. Colette collected new relationships all her life. Willy, a writer himself, was her muse. Colette brought the talent and he provided the incentive for her to develop her style. The filmmakers present the complexity of this bond.

Knightley was the perfect choice to portray the essence that drove Colette and her constant struggle between self-doubt and the will to succeed and create. Colette was not challenging society – she just didn’t care what people thought. She was above any conceit of how she appeared to others. It is interesting that when “Gigi” was adapted for the stage in 1951, Colette personally chose then-unknown Audrey Hepburn to play the title role. Knightley has been compared to Hepburn in style and personality.

Dominic West is the unsung hero of the film as “Willy,” Colette’s husband and partner for a good part of her early life. West is one of those actors capable of playing anyone or anything realistically. He simply disappears into the role. You may have seen him in strikingly different roles such as “Noah” in The Affair or “Ernest Hemingway” in Genius.

Wash Westmoreland directed this movie from the heart. The life in Paris at the end of the 1800’s is beautifully recreated. To his credit, Colette’s relationships in the film seem effortlessly natural as she evolves and grows more complex as a person and artist. Bisexuality and homosexuality were not unusual during the 1800’s or early 1900’s. However, at that time they had to be discreetly hidden, as they were often illegal. Here Colette’s affairs are not presented as scandalous or groundbreaking, but rather as the natural interactions of a person who refuses to be defined by rules set by society.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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