Friday, July 30, 2010


Along with its bread, France is characterized by a widespread love and recognition of its own illustrious literary figures. Colette is one of them. She was born in a beautiful town about 45 minutes' drive from here. Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye. I've never read her books, but I've gazed long and hard at photos of her, trying to fathom the depths of her gaze, and it is now on my to-do list to tackle her works in whatever language works best.

Her life was full of romantic intrigues with both men and women, so it's hardly surprising that in her book and in Stephen Frears' adaptation, Chéri, a beautiful young man, for whom the story is named, takes his own life for the love of an older woman, the courtesan Léa. Clearly Colette knew how to see women with the eyes of a lover. And what she sees is good for the soul.

I'm not critiquing the film (suffice it to say that though the acting was at times stilted, the film is a feast for the eyes and the middle aged heart), I'm merely here to say that the story did me good. Sitting on the brink of 50, contemplating still what it means to age in this unkind culture and what it means to be truly "beautiful," it was exhilarating to see Michele Pfeiffer holding her gorgeous own next to an actor (Rupert Friend) 23 years her junior. I don't know what she has done to maintain herself, and I don't really care. Her age (and the age of her character)—as I believe it always is—is evident. And it is stunning. Her hands, her eyes, and those rather decisive lines that run from the nose to the sides of her mouth—they don't lie.

If lines speak of years, they also speak of experience. And in this story it is her experience that wins and ruins his heart. But it is also her own knowledge and painful recognition of the truth of Age versus Youth that renders the story warm and real and—there's that word again—beautiful. The struggle, particularly in a woman who's entire livelihood had been based on her physical charms, is a valiant one.

So, girlfriends. If you haven't seen it, rent it, watch it, and love yourself for all that you are. Going back in time wouldn't make you more beautiful. In fact, it might make you less so.


  1. I can't wait to see the film, being an admirer of Colette's books and having read her fascinating biography. Did you know that she had a face lift? (and this was back at the turn of the century!)
    While it's true that life is a struggle and we would all like to hold onto what we once were physically, I still find it so sad that what we see before our eyes delays our discovery of what lies behind that façade. If I may reiterate a line from another film, Elegy, "Beautiful women are invisible. We're so dazzled by the outside that we never make it inside.", I think something similar can be said about aging: do we even listen to someone who now brandishes 'those decisive lines that run from the nose to the sides of her mouth'? Do we pay attention to them, wonder what they're about? What they've lived and seen, how important their wisdom might be to us? Do we even see their beauty? Or do we say, "she was beautiful once" or think their experience is irrelevant in today's world? I think there's so much more to that word, Beautiful. It should have nothing to do with façades.
    Colette is definitely worth reading. And if you can, in French first.
    love, Anna

  2. Yes, it's true what you say that beautiful women are rendered invisible...but I guess what I'm saying is that it's a thrill to be wrapped up in a story about a woman who's beauty is appreciated after "her day" whatever that means. Why can we not see OTHER kinds of beauty, is what I want to know, other than the prescribed youthful kinds? I was also trying to say that, yes, her beauty and, indeed, her power, were one and the same as her experience in the end. What the young man learned that he loved about her was something that only could come with her age.