Colette

19/3 · Por HBO

The biographical film Colette (2018), starring Keira Knightley and directed by Wash Westmoreland is available on HBO and HBO GO; depicting a period piece that recreates the life of controversial French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette better known as “Colette.”

Colette - her life and work

            Although born in Burgundy, Colette’s life took place in Paris, where she arrived at the age of fourteen and was already married to Henry Gauthier-Villars, a writer whose pen name was Willy.  Although he was a writer, Gauthier-Villars had a good number of ghostwriters; Colette eventually becoming one of them.

Willy was known to go from party to party and collect lovers. Colette would accompany him to social events; at first, resisting him yet proving herself to him to be a smart and unique girl. 

Willy, recognizing her talent. proposed to Colette she writes a risqué story about her days spent in school which would later become the 1900 novel and commercial surprise, “Claudine at School.” The novel, originally attributed to Willy, was deemed a clandestine piece of literature as teenage girls would look for ways to read it, while the general public consumed the novel as if they were tasting the Forbidden Fruit. Gauthier-Villars would later ask her to write more books for him to publish under his name.

            Later on, Colette would start to free herself from social ties. She didn't use drugs (as was the fashionable way to do it then) or drink alcohol, yet she did have affairs with women and even the occasional threesome (some with Willy himself). She also began to dress provocatively, cut her hair and walked around in short pants, as if she were a man. The result was a combination of both shock and delight by French society.  

At the same time, she became the partner of Mathilde de Morny, a transvestite aristocrat and lesbian with whom she began to frequent music halls at the time. Accepted by today’s standards, vaudeville artists at the time were considered a negative influence in society; which  Colette never gave a damn about that. At the time, she was friends with esteemed people such as Alfred Jarry, Jean Cocteau, Paul Valéry, Jean Genet, Marcel Schwob and Simone de Beauvoir. She also worked with Maurice Ravel in the opera “The Child and the Spells”. .

She finally divorced and in 1922 delivered her last novel from the Claudine series, the first with her signature, “The House of Claudine.” She would later remarry journalist and businessman Henry de Jouvenel; later becoming her seventeen-year old’s stepson’s mistress. She was also a journalist and theater critic and would later remarry another journalist, Maurice Doudeket whom she would stay married until her death. 

In 1936, she published “My Apprenticeships”, a biographical text in which she narrated her life at the time she was writing the Claudine series. In 1937 her first volume of stories, Bella Vista, was published. In 1944, she published “Gig,” one of her most famous novels in which she portrays the life of a young Parisian courtesan..

Keira Knightley y Wash Westmoreland

Colette shows the viewer her first years as a writer, her awakening and her evolution. Keira Knightley perfectly embodies her as she gives the character an inner strength charged with delicacy and elegance. The British actress has the particularity of fitting very well into period roles. Not only has she played a lady thrown into the world of pirate adventures in the Pirates of the Caribbean saga, but she has also played roles in the miniseries Doctor Zhivago (2002) and in films like King Arthur (2004), Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Anna Karenina (2012).

Wash Westmoreland is an independent filmmaker with a catalog of films that revolve around homosexuality. He has worked on most of his films with his now-deceased husband Richard Glazer; with much of the film’s script largely written by him before his death.

One of their first collaborations together was the controversial (and now cult) film The Fluffer (2001), the story of a love triangle within the gay porn industry. Another of their films, Quinceañera (2006), won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Quinceañera introduces us to two young Mexicans in the United States: she, pregnant at age 15, and he, a homosexual. He has also directed documentaries on the subject, Totally Gay! (2003) and Gay Republicans (2004). He delivered the well-received hit, Still Alice (2014), starring Julianne Moore, who won the Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best Actress for her role as a professor struck with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Colette, a story about an exceptional woman, female freedom, love without barriers and art is available now on HBO and HBO GO.

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