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DVD Review: Chéri (2009)

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You're not the first young man I've said goodbye to.

Set in France before World War I, the romantic drama Chéri offers more than period piece elegance and sophisticated dialogue. Michelle Pfieffer and Rupert Friend anchor the film with powerful showcase performances based on the source material novels Chérie and La Fin De Chéri by Colette.

The screenplay, written by Christopher Hampton, simmers a slow, unique relationship between courtesan Lea de Lonval, played by Pfieffer, and Cheri, played by Friend, a privileged son of courtesan Madame Peloux, well played by Kathy Bates. Their arrangement has mutually practical applications at first, then gets complicated due to a genuine if gradual love. Cheri’s arranged marriage with Edmee, played by Felicity Jones, especially complicates matters as mother and new wife try to break Chéri’s disdainful attitude.

Director Stephen Frears gets amazing performances from his cast with equally impressive visual support including set design, costumes, and cinematography. Frears also provides voice narration within the plot as the cast makes a perfect fit into the time, settings and a strong screenplay which slowly reveals how such an intricate relationship braces against personalities, numerous social vices and even time itself.

Pfieffer, who was long overdue for a showcase role, handles the dialogue with timing and flair while giving audiences amazing insight with simple gestures and looks, especially at the end where Frears aptly showcases this strong actress who exhibits more appeal than any recent Hollywood starlet dosed in makeup and overblown lighting.

Friend equals his screen partner as the charming, yet mean-spirited "boy who refuses to grow up [and] collides with a woman who realizes she cannot stay young forever." Even if year-end awards forget this bright mid-summer gem or Pfieffer, Cheri remains a unique film experience where audiences enjoy the dialogue and remember the emotional wake the words leave behind.

The minimal extras include a 10-minute “making of” featurette and only two deleted scenes. Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround plus French and Spanish subtitles are helpful options, but high production values almost make the text placement a crime. Filmmakers create a highly recommended 93 minute experience, which is rated R for some sexual content and brief drug use. Hopefully a Blu-ray version is on the way.

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