"Vapid crap!" fumed a colleague of mine on his way out of the local critics' screening of the new movie, Cheri.
Poor Colette! Quel dommage!
Even nowadays, when we're all supposed to be so PC and sensitive, a lot of men still don't get love stories. Granted, some stories are better told than others, but artistic merit aside, there is still a large segment of the human population (and certainly not exclusively male) who don't think love stories are important. I found Cheri a shrewdly limned tragedy disguised as "vapid crap," beneath all the frothy gorgeousness that director Stephen Frears can ladle on.
The simple truth told in the movie is that love matters. It's not about romantic love of the explosive, and fleeting variety, nor is the erotic coupling of a desirable older woman and a beautiful, but callow young man played as salacious sex farce. It's not even meant to be woman-empowering. This is a story about two people in the midst of a sexual affair who discover they get each other: they're on the same wavelength, understand each other's emotions. They don't have to pretend to be anything or anyone else when they're together; they can be themselves.
Their misfortune is to be trapped in a world of grandeur and artifice (the courtesans' milieu of Belle Époque Paris) that has no language or sympathy for what they feel for each other. Sex is business, marriage is an alliance, and love is considered an idle, even dangerous affront to the strict social rules by which everyone lives. Unable to shoehorn their feelings into the approved social mode, these characters try to live life in the absence of love, and find it intolerable. It's not the end of their affair, so much as estrangement from who they really are, in losing each other, that is their real tragedy. Just ask any of thousands of gay men and women in California forbidden to marry the partner they love because of Prop 8.
Love matters, onscreen, on the page, or in real life. That's why love stories are always important.