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Film / Colette

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Colette is a 2018 biographical drama film directed by Wash Westmoreland, from a screenplay by Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, based upon the life of the French novelist Colette, mostly her memoir My Apprenticeships. It stars Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Denise Gough.

After marrying a successful Parisian music critic, Henry Gauthier-Villars, known commonly as "Willy" (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy reveals that he's a "literary entrepreneur", as well as a writer; he employs numerous other writers in his "factory" and markets their work as his own. He convinces Colette to be one of them. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette's fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression.


Tropes used in Colette include:

  • Arc Words: "I am the real Claudine."
  • Bifauxnen: Missy plays the western, lesbian version of this trope to the hilt. note 
  • Break-Up Bonfire: When Colette finds out about Willy seeing her female lover Georgie Raoul-Duval, she puts it in her book Claudine en menage, working with Willy to change names and details. However, Georgie thinks it's inadequately disguised and there's already been enough gossip — her husband's actually threatened to challenge Willy to a duel! — so every copy of the novel is collected and burned. (Since Willy owns the copyright he can reprint the book with another publisher.) After Colette leaves him, Willy orders Heon to burn the original manuscripts for her Claudine novels. Heon actually saves them. He returned them to her and she later used them to win the rights back from the publisher.
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  • Country Mouse: Sidonie-Gabrielle is this when she first moves to Paris, and is completely out of place at her first soiree. She adapts quickly, and loses the country mouse completely when she adopts the Colette persona.
  • Crossdresser: Missy. She is never in anything except men's clothing, even for sleeping wear. While this would not be considered a big deal now in Paris, it was highly controversial then.
  • Double Standard: Willy says he's perfectly fine with Colette and Georgia's relationship. However, when Colette asks how he'd feel about her seeing a man, he says it would be unacceptable to him.
  • The Eiffel Tower Effect: The film itself only uses one or two slightly less well-known Parisian landmarks (though it can’t resist mentioning the in-period debate about the trope namer structure), but the poster designer just had to include the Eiffel Tower.
  • Fangirl: Willy assumes that the first Claudine novel will mostly sell to men, thanks to its erotic elements. However, it really takes off with young women who identify with the lead character, and he finds that he and Colette have quite a fangirl following — some of whom become significant characters in the film.
  • Gilligan Cut: Willy asks Colette to cut her hair to look like the public's image of Claudine. She states frankly that that will never happen. The next shot shows her with her hair cropped short.
  • Gratuitous French: At some point Colette calls her dog "Tommy chien". Chien is French for dog, but nobody would say that. Colette, however, really did, only it was "Toby chien."
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Colette and Missy's on-stage kiss offends most of the audience so much they're not only booed but driven offstage with hurled objects (100% Truth in Television). They were Missy's ex-husband's friends; he'd already divorced her since he couldn't stand her cross-dressing and same-sex attraction.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Sido expresses interest in seeing Victorien Sardou's play La Tosca with Sarah Bernhardt, but Willy dismisses it as too melodramatic and overdone. It was one of Sardou's greatest successes, most familiar to us today from Puccini's operatic adaption. Even has its own trope. Later he has the same reaction to electric light.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Willy is a selfish wannabe Manipulative Bastard and not half as clever as he thinks he is, but he has a working talent for publicity — and he’s a competent editor who seems to be genuinely important to Colette’s early development as a writer.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: The real Colette loved and cherished her feline companions. She wrote many poems and stories with cats, so it's entirely in keeping with reality that the first image in this film is an orange cat washing itself on her bed. She would approve.
  • La Belle Epoque/The Edwardian Era: The film does a fine job of evoking an elegant Parisian version of 1890s style, segueing into the new century, complete with steam trains, Art Nouveau decoration on fashionable gentlemen’s walls, horse-drawn carriages, and period bicycles. The transition into the new century is marked by details such as new fashions, new hairstyles, and hand-written manuscripts being replaced by typewriters.
  • Love Triangle: Colette starts seeing Georgie. Then, unbeknownst to her at first, her husband Willy starts seeing Georgie too. When she discovers this, Colette puts them all into her next novel, to Georgie's dismay.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Willy likes to play this part, using the people he employs to build up his literary brand (including Colette). But he’s not especially good at it; the people he uses notice the fact, sooner or later, and get angry with him.
  • Masculine–Feminine Gay Couple: Colette and Missy, though the former experiments with masculine styles at times and the latter is more of an elegant bifauxnen transvestite than a Butch Lesbian.
  • The Merch: Oh, the merch. In-Universe (and in Real Life). Soap, perfume, face powder, hair oil, dresses, fans, candy, lingerie, it just went on and on. They didn't even show half the stuff you could really get with the Claudine brand.
  • The Mistress: Willy is keeping a mistress early on his marriage, until Colette makes him break it off. Later, Meg becomes his live-in mistress, with Colette's tacit approval.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title: Sort of justified: see what happens when you search for Colette in Google or The Other Wiki.
  • Of Corset Hurts: For their first public outing in Paris as a couple, Willy tries to make Colette wear a tightly corseted new gown. Colette, a country girl, has never worn anything like this before and refuses, as she finds it too uncomfortable.
  • Produce Pelting: Friends of Missy's ex-husband begin throwing peanuts at Colette and Missy during their performance at the Moulin Rouge. This then escalates to bottles and furniture.
  • Roll in the Hay: Early in their courtship, Willy and Colette enjoy an assignation in a barn near her parents' farm.
  • Sexy Schoolwoman: The late 19th C. equivalent. Willy develops a fetish for women dressed as Claudine in her schoolgirl smock.
  • Significant Haircut: Willy makes Colette cut off her long hair and get a crop like Polaire, who is currently playing Claudine on stage.
  • Socialite: The bohemian world where Willy and Colette live also has its share of wealthy characters, some of them classic socialites, who like to hang out with artists because it’s cool — notably including Missy, who comes from a very aristocratic background.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Colette is a woman whose inner voice as a writer has long been denied. She is willing to take extraordinary measures to promote the emergence of her inner voice as a new writer. Hailing from a country village, she marries a charismatic and dominant Parisian. Under his auspices, she is initiated into the bohemian life-style of Paris where her creative appetites are triggered.
  • You Are the New Trend: Once Polaire establishes her distinctive crop as her style when playing Claudine, it starts appearing on young women all over Paris.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Missy, who habitually dresses as a man, is portrayed positively (many people then felt differently about this however).


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