January 21, 2018

ShowbuzzDaily Sundance Film Festival Review: “Colette”


COLETTE (no distrib):  These days, the early 20th Century French writer known as Colette is remembered mostly if at all for having written the story that became the musical Gigi, but her own life proves to be remarkably timely in Wash Westmoreland’s film.  Westmoreland developed the project for a dozen years (originally with his late husband Richard Glatzer, with whom he co-directed Quinceanera, The Last of Robin Hood and Still Alice, and who retains a co-writing credit here with Westmoreland and Rebecca Lenkiewicz), and it’s had the luck to hit at exactly the right moment in popular culture.  Colette (played with depth and grit by Keira Knightley) was a young country girl who married the older novelist known as Willy (a superb Dominic West), a womanizer and literary fraud who farmed most of his writing out to others.  When Willy realized Colette’s talents as a writer, he exploited her work, which was published and copyrighted in his name.  The screenwriters are fair enough to make it clear that although Willy was a bastard, without his encouragement Colette would probably never have expressed herself at all, either artistically or sexually, as in the latter case he was mostly turned on by her bisexuality.  Colette’s saga goes on to include avant-garde French theater of the era (including her taking part in the stage’s first same-sex kiss, which caused a riot at the Moulin Rouge) and even the rise of mime, the ultimate French trope.  Her decision to break free of Willy and establish her own public identity was a precursor of the issues that are even now being debated in television and film, among other places.  One might have wished for a bit more context–Colette’s life was going on at the same time as Impressionism was revolutionizing the art world, and World War I was fast approaching–but Westmoreland’s film is satisfying, and for the most part pointed without being preachy.  The cinematography, production and costume design are also admirable for what must have been a limited budget.  Colette is currently seeking distribution, and with the right handling it could be a player in next year’s award season.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."