Chéri by Stephen Frears: The Venus born too early


25841648 8100371 image a 56 1583940390248 2 Chéri by Stephen Frears: The Venus born too earlyWhile scrolling on social networks, some of you may have noticed the emergence of several trends. Recently, we have seen more and more young men wearing a white pearl neckless. we immediately thought of Chéri !

Chéri is a movie directed by Stephen Frears and released on 2009. It is an adaptation of Colette’s novel, about Chéri aka Fred Peloux, a young man, the lover of Léa de Lonval, a courtesan of nearly fifty years. Cast in the lead roles: the duet of Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend. The filming, which took place in England, in Biarritz and in Paris, brings together Stephen Frears and Michelle Pfeiffer, twenty years after Les Liaisons Dangereuses ! It is a drama about desire and the cruelty of seduction. But it is also about the difficulty of giving up the art of seduction and seeing your beauty fade over time. Can the “mature woman”, just like her male counterpart still entice and have lovers, including younger than herself ?


000347391705fad03cb563d9a7f0d7d5 2 Chéri by Stephen Frears: The Venus born too earlyFred Peloux is the son of a french courtesan in Paris. He lives with his mother, in a luxurious house. Léa is a friend of hers and has known him since he was a child. She is a courtesan as well, but lives alone and never had children. She calls Fred « Chéri », a french equivalent of « dear», a nickname that she has used for him since he was 6. The movie starts by reflecting the idleness of people who just live for pleasure.

However, the major theme of the movie is the relationship between Léa and Chéri. There is a social and dynamic imbalance. He is 19 years old, and therefore much younger than her. In media and entertainment, we are more likely to see older men with younger women, or even girls. This film explores the rarely used theme of older women, pursuing younger lovers. With finesse, it explores women’s sexuality at an age where it’s rarely represented. In fact, the immorality of their relationship is more about his youth, which make him easier for her to manipulate. But there is more ; between the two characters, there is a gripping temptation. He is mysterious and solitary, he does not confide in others. He intrigues her by being so weary, melancholic, haughty, and even sinister. They use each other. She uses him in order to feel young and he uses Léa as a substitute for the mother he feels he never had.

filmcherireview Chéri by Stephen Frears: The Venus born too early

But beyond the affection she has for her friend’s child, there is a kind of sexual pact between them. They are from the same background where sex is trivialized, and a livelihood. During the beginning of their romance, the audience feels like the emotional relationship aspect of their dynamic doesn’t matter until they both find themselves trapped in their game.

 Fred’s mother sees very well what is happening and wants to turn him away from Léa. In a scene, the two friends have a conversation about being a grandmother, in the middle of roses. The abstract concept of an old woman surrounded by flowers, specially roses is not a coincidence. It’s not whithout reminding for example a French poem from Pierre Ronsard, Mignonne allons voir si la rose.  The two women acknowledge their age and discuss getting older. Then Léa goes to smell a rose, which fades between her fingers.

This metaphor symbolises is the beginning of Léa’s jealousy of Chéri’s wife. Jealousy of her relation with him, but also of her beauty and youth as she herself loses both.


tragical Chéri by Stephen Frears: The Venus born too earlyOn the day of Fred’s wedding, Léa buys a ring for herself as though she were getting engaged as well. She also begins to wear darker colours. The romance turn into a nightmare. They both plunge into the depths of heartache, without being able to escape. He is married, therefore tied to another and she’s getting older. At first, it feels like the right sacrifice to do. But despite it all, their mutual obsession keeps growing and she runs away in south of France to escape it.

Upon her return, everything that had originally built their bond, crumbles. She infantilizes him too much, he emancipates himself and and rebels against her. They have lost what’s was magical, the timeless character of their love. Now he realizes that he idealized her and their recklessness becomes violence and pain.

Finally, time creates a distance between them, and ends the relationship. The most tragic note of the film is as it ends, quoting the last lines of Colette’s novel. It says that Léa was born too early. Chéri didn’t understand that she would be the only woman he would ever love, and upon realising this fact, he kills himself.

cheri 2 Chéri by Stephen Frears: The Venus born too early


img news cheri 1 14224810131 thumb Chéri by Stephen Frears: The Venus born too early

 Beyond the film’s tragic story, the audience is plunged into a neat aesthetic. Léa’s timelessness is highlighted in the film,  as it is often pointed out that she does not seem to age. The aesthetic of the character is very close to the sea, and in particular to Botticelli’s Venus.

Colour plays an important role as well. In the Beginning, Léa wears a lot of light colours like green or pastel blue. But as the film progresses, she turns to darker colours, symbolising the darkening and troubles the relationship faces.

At home, many artistic details hide within her jewellery, such as a pearl necklace she wears throughout the film. Chéri wants to take this token from her as he wants to wear it himself.

As previously mentioned, during Fred’s wedding, Léa gifts herself a ring and chooses an emerald to adorn it. Emeralds symbolise love and Romans attributed the stone to Venus, the Goddess of love and beauty. Other details that reinforce the symbolism of Venus within Léa are for example, shells she stores in her jewellery or her preference for foods such as Oysters, Langoustines, all animals associated with the sea and the scene of Botticelli’s famed “Birth of Venus” painting.  One final detail which hammers home the comparisons of Venus and Léa that is difficult to miss is her long wavy blond hair and her embodiment of beauty as a courtesan  


This initially innocent relationship escapes their control and finally, Léa and Chéri can’t fight against the cruelty of time that separates them. The public shares their frustration at not being able to be together, and no matter how old you are, you cannot remain indifferent to this love tragedy !