Bizarre, Fascinating Story of a Writer

After seeing Keira Knightly in The Nutcracker and The Four Realms https://wp.me/p4c1s1-tx I wasn’t excited about seeing her in Colette. But she does much better in her role in this adult film than she does in the former one for children.

Colette is the story of true-to-life author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and her writer husband Willy (Dominic West). The pair had a strange relationship. Willy moved in well-known social circles in Paris while Gabrielle (as she was known) was a ‘country bumpkin’. Willy wasted money on gambling, women and entertaining and was constantly scrabbling to put out a best-seller to cover his debts. To do this he gathered a team of people who wrote for him. Gabrielle was drawn into this stratagem and this was how her writing was ‘discovered’.

Colette – as she became known – wrote about her own youthful experiences – with some poetic licence – and Claudine the character was born. In the mid-1800s the ‘novel’ started to become popular but was considered something only women would read. Willy was at first disparaging of his wife’s writing but in desperation he submitted the manuscript to his publisher under his name and the book was a hit. Colette continued to write book after successful book in the Claudine series.

As Willy took the accolades Colette stood back and watched. Sounds like Big Eyes you say, the story of painter Margaret Keane who painted well-received pictures while her husband took the credit. But, no, Colette is different. Colette herself was complicit in the arrangement and didn’t try to wrest control from Willy – at least not for many years. The two worked together to make Claudine successful, which also involved them bizarrely ‘living out’ Claudine in order to make the writing authentic. Amongst other things, to do this, Willy took up with a mistress, and Colette experimented with lesbian sex.

As Claudine the story matured and discovered its identity, so too did Colette the person. While Willy remained the immature, self-centred individual that he always was, Colette outgrew him.

Colette is a fascinating – if weird – story of a writer who became enormously successful in her own right. The film opens in South African cinemas on 7 December 2018.

 

Watching and Writing Words

By Brenda Daniels

Three films, already out on DVD, all reflect an interest in words.

In the first of the three that I watched recently, Academy Award winner, Julianne Moore plays Alice, a character who experiences the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease. Diagnosed at the early age of 50, Alice’s deterioration is scarily swift. From momentarily forgetting words to not recognising landmarks, Alice quickly begins to suffer the ignominy of not being able to find the bathroom and of greeting her own daughter like a stranger. Still Alice delivers its message all the more poignantly by casting its lead character in the role of a linguistics professor who has written a book about communication. When elaborating on his diagnosis Alice’s doctor tells her that symptoms of this strange illness can be even more rapid in the highly educated. Very sobering indeed.

Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart are mother and daughter in Still Alice, a film about how Alice deals with early onset Alzheimer's Disease. Photo source: http://www.vwmin.org/still-alice-by-lisa-genova-9781501107733-paperback.html

Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart are mother and daughter in Still Alice, a film about how Alice deals with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Photo source: http://www.vwmin.org/still-alice-by-lisa-genova-9781501107733-paperback.html

Not nearly as believable or worth watching is Stuck in Love, starring Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins and Nat Wolff. In this film a father and his two children are all writers. Each of them writes (or experiences writer’s block) in response to their love or antipathy for the wife and mother (Jennifer Connelly) who “deserted” them some years before. Positing love as the artist’s muse is not a new idea by any means. But in Stuck in Love the portrayal is a bit ridiculous and makes a mockery of the hard work, as opposed to sentiment, that “inspires” writers.

In a way it is hard work that does inspire writing in The Rewrite. In this movie Hugh Grant plays scriptwriter, Keith Michaels, who simply can’t come up with a sequel to his first successful script. He is shipped off to the other side of the country to take up a job as a writer-in-residence at a small university. Here his lackadaisical attitude quickly gets him into trouble. It takes the writing output of his own students to help Keith turn his life around. Their scripts help him realise that, contrary to his initial thoughts, writing can be taught (not just caught) and their positive response to his teaching proves to be the catalyst for his next script.

In Still Alice and The Rewrite there is clear character development. In The Rewrite Keith realises his own and others’ value through his recapturing of the written word. In Still Alice, Alice remains, to herself and her family, still Alice despite her sad loss of words.