Colette le film: to like or to not like – the importance of debates in French society

MyFrenchLife Colette le film: to like or to not like - the importance of debates in French society
The importance of debates in French society… People disagree all the time. There are so many ingredients which make us different from one another –our genes, education, background, experiences to name a few – that it’s no wonder humans find good reasons to make sure their points are always winning over those of their detractors’ during heated debates.

In Politics

Take current French politics and social unrest for example.

My ears are buzzing every morning when I zap from one news channel to another, trying to make out who is right or who is wrong or who is the most sensible of all.

It’s hard to form one’s opinion when on the one hand you hear the yellow vests protesters complaining that the French police are too violent along with some of the President’s political opponents’ spokespersons and on the other hand the French Interior Minister insisting that the police are just defending themselves against acts of aggression and destruction.  

I am aware too, that across the Channel, such opposing standpoints are dividing the British society over the Brexit outcome, let alone the shutdown across the Atlantic, in the USA .

Political opinions standing poles apart are not necessarily a French privilege.

In Art

This said, one would expect that on such less ‘vital’ matters than politics, as Art for instance, there could still be less passionate discussions triggered by diverging opinions.

Unfortunately I have at least one famous historical instance in mind to refute this wishful thinking,  accurately called The Quarrel of the Ancient and the Moderns , which shook the Académie Française at the end of the 18th Century.  

Art, literature, painting, philosophy are topics as important as politics to argue upon, especially to the French!

The Particular Case of Colette le film

When I wrote in MyFrenchLife™  the article about the future release of Colette the movie which I had not yet seen, I expressed some reservations concerning this ‘French cultural appropriation’ by Hollywood.

In the months that followed, I mostly read positive reviews and when I saw it last week, I was in a very good disposition towards it. In the end, though I did not dislike the movie, I felt immediately afterwards I would not see it again – and this was an indication to me that it was not a masterpiece

In MyFrenchLife – MaVieFrancaise Community Page members’ feedback were positive in majority.  It made me realize this film touched the audience in many different ways, and reading all of them was quite an enriching experience, which lessened my disappointment.

I would like to continue this exchange with readers by sharing my ‘two cents worth’ on the film and invite you to do the same, especially if you think you can provide me with the best possible counter-arguments! I’d love to hear them!

Colette le film – My feedback

I enjoyed the re-creation of La Belle Epoque Paris (though it was filmed both in Hungary and England. Noting that recent animated French film ‘Dilili in Paris’ is the perfect and more effective evocation for delving in the pre-WWI world of the capital) and I am also glad that it revived my interest in Colette.

She was a prolific writer and the object of many biographies too. In doing so, I came across the Society of Colette’s friends from which I received my invitation to attend the Paris film launch, so indirectly I owe Colette my first ever red carpet experience on the Champs Elysées!

  • However, I was disappointed by how Wash Westmoreland chose to show us Colette’s life during her marriage to Willie, i.e. the beginning of her career and her first years as an adult in Paris.
  • It became quickly obvious to me that he was turning her into the early muse of the LGBT movements.
  • Indeed it’s a trendy intellectual appropriation of the 21st Century but Colette was married 3 times and was also attracted to men!
  • On top of that, Kiera Knightley inhabits Colette like the frustrated, sacrificed and devoted Jane Austen’s heroin of Pride and Prejudice (some wish she had been nominated at the Bafta awards for best actress but it’s no wonder to me).

I can’t say the film is a failure, it can be watched and enjoyed, but BBC/PBS period dramas procure a higher degree of satisfaction in general!

And the French audience doesn’t seem to dislike it.

In my opinion this has to do with movies nowadays, it’s what we are given to see. Visual effects often prevail over a sensical story and we are not aware of it anymore.

In Colette the movie, the narrative is hindered by the  different scenes which happen like a series of film stills:

  • Colette at her birth house being courted by Willie,
  • Colette newly married in Paris,
  • Colette in society,
  • Colette cheated,
  • Colette is her husband’s ghostwriter,
  • Colette in a ménage à 3,
  • Colette’s affair with Missy,
  • Colette the actress …

MyFrenchLife Colette le film: to like or to not like - the importance of debates in French society
It gives the impression that the director had, more a message to convey than a story to tell.

What stays in one’s mind after seeing the film is, that,

Colette loved women and enjoyed herself in the ‘Gai Paris’ (cheerful Paris) of the turn of the Century

when I expected it to be, that,

Colette is a major writer of French literature.

Member feedback

Patricia Manze

“Just saw that movie – sorely disappointed.  It was just a bad movie. Kiera Knightly does the best she can do with it. It is mainly focused on her sexuality rather than on an actual story line. I have a tendency to like films critics don’t – but this one was quite the bad one. The director is obsessed with lesbian love scenes – rather than the incredibly rich life she led.  It isn’t that there is anything wrong with that but it was continual short scenes continually interspersed with the sex scenes. The most interesting part was the listing of facts about her life at the credits!”

Alisa Bearov Landrum

“I loved it! Gorgeous and evocative, and I thought that the physical scenes were tasteful and not unbalanced. I left with quite a bit of new information (didn’t know that much about her life prior to fame) and a much better understanding of who she was, a brilliant and complex woman in an era when it was tragically difficult for a woman to achieve any measure of personal success or even autonomy. I came home and instantly dusted off my Claudine novels and buried myself in Colette’s work for several days. I HIGHLY recommend the movie! Gorgeous and evocative.”

Carolyne Lee

“I saw it here in Melbourne in November as part of the British film festival. My partner and I loved it and we are both normally very exigent in our cinematic tastes. I’ve loved Colette’s work for years since reading her first two books in French which were recommended to me by French friends. I was also pleasantly surprised by Kiera Knightley’s performance. I don’t normally feel she has a very wide dramatic range but I found her quite convincing as Colette.”

Viviane France Vigier-Bernstein

“Saw it when I went back to New York early October – Love it ! – but here in South Carolina we don’t get these movies?”

Jane Gilmour

“As the author of ‘Colette’s France: her lives, her loves‘, I expected to be disappointed but I too found it really good. It was a very true depiction of Colette’s early years in Paris, with some poetic licence to be sure.”

Maree Anne Pierrehumbert

“I saw the film upon my return from vacation in France. I found Kiera Knightley performance quite good. I enjoyed the film and would like to read and learn more about Colette and her life.”


Have you seen ‘Colette’ le film? I invite you to share your views, especially if you think you can provide me with counter-arguments! I’d love to hear them in the comments section below!


Image credits
1. Colette: Offical Film header via Bleecker Street Media
2. Miss and Colette by Robert Viglasky via
3. Colette: Keira Knightley via Fandango

About the Contributor

Jacqueline Dubois Pasquier

After teaching for 20 years abroad, I mostly live now in Paris, where I feel both like a native and an expat. I enjoy being part of My French Life™ as it makes my life in Paris even more meaningful and special. I have a passion for literature and movies. I share my thoughts in my blog and on twitter.”

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  1. Tomi Kent-Smith Jan 29, 2019 at 2:08 PM - Reply

    Saw the film. Greatly disappointed. I believe Colette deserves much more recognition both from her origins throughout the entirety of her life. Willie was given too much credit: he was simply unscrupulous individual who took advantage of others. Yes, Colette married him, and he through means less than honorable taught her the need to eliminate everything from her environment mentally and physically during the time required to write her stories. Yes she was a participant in sexual escapades with both men and women, but they didn’t rule her life. She had an extremely rich life in so many ways…why tie it only to sex and an abusive man. Show her entire life and contributions to literature.

  2. Craig Pilant Feb 3, 2019 at 7:34 AM - Reply

    Thanks you for encouraging us to share our views on “Colette”. As an American, we are not exposed much to Colette unless we take a French literature class. And even then, she is passed over rather offhandedly. But from what I see of her work, she is akin to writers who don’t aspire to write “the great work”, but wanted to observe and write about what she encountered and saw around her.

    The film did alert me to facets of her career — such as being the ghost writer of works attributed solely to her husband. I agree that much of the film is episodic, and certainly the film has this sense of dipping into various chapters of a biography, without reading the connecting material. It could easily be called “Scenes from a life of Colette,” since it does have that episodic feel. The fact that it spent some time examining (rather lightly) her bisexuality was to me so “ho-hum”, as it seems to be the “de rigeur” aspect of films these days. Even so, at least it helps to humanize her and lead us to hope that she had some sense of fulfilment beyond her marriage and her writing.

    I agree that it is not a masterpiece, but what film biography is? To me, if a film aims at a small portion of someone’s life (like “A Lion in Winter”), it has more of a chance to tell us something significant about a person, than if it tries the life-long scope and leaves us agreeing with Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?”

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