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Colette

Official selection of the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival

The delightful, sexy biopic Colette showers its affection on the turn-of-the-century Parisian author whose struggles to have her creativity recognized still resonate in our modern age of gender inequality. Keira Knightley plays Colette with wit and backbone. And although director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice) tackles several serious subjects – sexual liberation, the repression of women’s voices, the power of art to change society – the movie has a playful spirit.

Poster for the literary biopic Colette, starring Keira KnightleyThe film follows Colette (Knightley) as a young woman who marries a debonair impresario. Willy (Dominic West) is trying to make his name by launching a successful literary brand – an ambition that, thus far, has proven fruitless. That’s when Colette comes up with an autobiographical idea built around a sexually adventurous teen named Claudine. The book is a hit, with Willy taking the credit (insisting that readers won’t buy books from female authors).

Colette chronicles this unconventional marriage and roots for Colette as she finds her artistic side and then personal freedom and happiness. The film makes clear that although there was mutual respect – even love – between these two people, their marriage was largely a business partnership, with her providing the bestselling novels and him brilliantly marketing them to the masses.
Knightley plays Colette as a woman learning to stand up for herself creatively and to be comfortable with her sexual yearnings. The actress has a tart rapport with West, who does a nice job showing how Willy could both sincerely love Colette and repress her, revealing the nuance within the character’s callousness.

In telling Colette’s story, Westmoreland also illustrates how Claudine transformed popular culture, introducing a new type of heroine that society had never experienced before. For Colette, being the unheralded inspiration for a literary phenomenon also taught her to have the strength to let that character go. Just as a dalliance with an American beauty helped to open her up sexually – leading to her most satisfying relationship later in life – so too was Claudine just a stepping stone to the fulfilment this artist was seeking. Colette makes the artist’s personal transformation cheering and deeply satisfying.       

–  Tim Grierson, ScreenDaily

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