LFF 2018: Colette

Directed by: Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, Fiona Shaw

Screening at LFF: 11th & 12th
UK Release Date: 25th January, 2019

Written by Sarah Buddery

A very personal project for Director Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice), Colette was the final film that he and his partner Richard Glatzer worked on before Glatzer sadly passed away in 2015 – and indeed it was a script that had been on Westmoreland’s radar since 2001.

Now finally bringing their story to the screen (Glatzer is credited for screenplay, and there is a rather lovely tribute at the end), there is a timeliness to this true story – despite its late 1800s grounding – that feels surprisingly relevant. Following the story of Colette (Knightley) and her older husband Willy (West), Colette’s salacious stories of a young Parisian woman named Claudine are released under her established author husband’s name. Together, they start a genuine phenomenon, and between writing, Colette embarks on liaisons with Southern Belle, Georgie Raoul-Duval (Tomlinson) and the androgynous Missy (Gough). It is only a matter of time however before Colette wishes to be seen as an author in her own right, and sees a life for herself beyond her husband.

Keira Knightley gives a fantastic performance as the titular character, and her arc from humble country girl to confident Parisian socialite is beautifully pitched. She continues to show her strengths, particularly in period dramas, and she ensures this character is believable and compelling throughout. Dominic West also gives a great performance as the portly Willy, cutting a larger-than-life figure with both his outlandish screen presence and rotund form.

The production design is suitably sumptuous with the costumes and splendour of Parisian aristocracy being exquisitely crafted. All of this is to be expected with a film such as this, but what was so unexpected was its exploration of gender politics and its celebration of queer culture was surprisingly forward-thinking given its period setting. There is a poignant relevancy to this film regarding women, and the struggle for equality. Colette as a character is one who struggles to be recognised for her work in a “man’s” world and this is something which is sadly still so telling in modern Hollywood.

This is the sort of film where you know exactly what you’re getting, but where it might be a little generic in its execution, it is exceptionally progressive thematically and in tone, and this is something which may surprise. With fantastic performances, and a lavish setting, Colette is a film that will sweep you off your feet.

 

Sarah’s Verdict

4

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LFF 2018: Lizzie

Year: 2018
Directed by: Craig William Macneill
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Chloë Sevigny, Fiona Shaw

Written by Sarah Buddery 

A story that will no doubt be familiar to fans of true crime, the infamous Lizzie Borden who murdered her father and step-mother is now the subject of this film, starring Chloe Sevigny as the titular character, and Kristen Stewart as her maid/lover/accomplice Bridget Sullivan.

Treading precariously between bodice ripper and period horror, the tonal balance of ‘Lizzie’ is one which is not always well executed. What does work is the exceptional sound design. By punctuating the film with violent and jarring outbursts, the sound design and score cut into the stifling silence in a way that is unnerving and builds the slow burn of dread effectively.

A far cry away from her Twilight days, Kristen Stewart continues to astound, and this is another solid performance from her. This film is in fact anchored by its performances, most notably from Stewart and Sevigny. Stewart provides an emotional core to the film, the person that the audience is most easily able to attach itself to, whereas Sevigny plays cold, calculating and callous to absolute perfection.

Where the film works is in their performances, the dynamic between their characters and the ways they interact with each other. Sadly where it doesn’t work is everything else, and the overall result is a bit of a mess.

The overly starched nature of the film is perhaps necessary in conveying Lizzie’s broiling inner anguish towards her father, but it unfortunately results in the film feeling distant and cold, and in a film where you know the outcome, it is hard to stick with it.

Bearing in mind that this film starts with how it ends – that being the bloody murder of Lizzie’s parents – the film somehow feels it is necessary to revisit the same bit over and over again. The multiple viewpoints approach is something that can work, but in the case of ‘Lizzie’, it just tips over to the point where it feels it is gratuitously revelling in the bloodshed; something which feels tonally out of step with the quietly surfacing horror of the rest of the film.

At times, it feels like the film has something to say about both proverbially and literally smashing the patriarchy, but it fails to settle on a message or an angle and instead throws a whole load of ideas into the mix in the hope that something – anything – will stick.

Despite its strong performances, ‘Lizzie’ falls short of the mark, failing to find its feet and settle on a tone and voice which feels consistent. It’s certainly not without merit, but overall, a bit of a disappointment.

SARAH’S RATING:

3