COLETTE (Yannick Bellon, 1951)

Incredibly charming: What else should a documentary about Colette be? In conversation, in her Paris apartment, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, mime, dancer, novelist, wonders whether she should give the green light to a proposed film about the houses in which she lived. “I’m no longer photogenic,” she insists; nearly 80, marriages, affair with a stepson and intermittent lesbianism behind her, refusing now even to mention the arthritis that confines and assaults her, Colette is vivacious. Yannick Bellon’s captivating postmodernist film, as much a study of evanescence as any poem by Dickinson, segues into the film that Colette, a few years before her end, has just said she doesn’t want to do. Giving voice(over) to her own commentary, she goes back, first, to the home in Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Yonne, where she was born. Bellon’s camera is poignantly liberated, anticipating Truffaut’s in Les mistons (1958) and The 400 Blows (1959).
     Bellon’s film is gorgeous with the vegetation around Colette’s homes: wisteria, green-fruited fig trees, flowering chestnuts, etc. And animals. At the beginning was a cat, which we see playing outdoors in long-shot while the future author of Gigi is indoors being born. The camera cuts to closer views, and finally a closeup, of the family pet: a metaphor for the baby’s birth. Once it hits us that this cat is playing another, long-ago cat, we grasp the point of Colette’s current butterfly collection, which a roaming camera finds woven around her books: an attempt to capture lovely life. “Childhood, happy childhood!” Colette exults. She speaks of having “abandoned” her series of homes before this last one.
     Other animals include a bulldog, a squirrel from Brazil.
     Jean Cocteau visits! “You wander in your head,” he tells her. He kisses her forehead before he leaves.
     The world will never come this way again.

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