Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century is the sophisticated centre of the world. The city’s artists, its fashion, the theatre and its music – everything here is at least one step ahead. But Paris is also famous for its courtesans: women who are so beautiful, intelligent and knowledgeable in the art of love that crown princes, dukes and captains of industry alike are willing to part with large sums of money for the pleasure of their company. One such lady is Léa. She can now afford to lead a comfortable life and has retired from her trade altogether. One day she goes to lunch with her old colleague Mme Peloux. Once a celebrated beauty, age has however made her a resentful and spiteful middle-aged woman. Although Léa does not care for her very much, she nonetheless feels it is her place to show respect for a former colleague. Mme Peloux does not come unattended. She is accompanied by a young man who turns out to be her own son. Chéri, as his mother calls him, is dazzlingly good-looking and enjoys the carefree life of louche hedonism. Mme Peloux has big plans for him, but beforehand, he needs to gain his manhood. Mme Peloux proposes that Léa initiate him. Léa accepts and, before long, something that begins as a playful flirt soon turns into a passionate love affair. An apprenticeship that was meant to take just a few weeks develops into a liaison lasting six years. One day, Chéri is invited to his mother’s residence – alone. What Léa, who has been asked to join them later, does not yet know, is that Mme Peloux has arranged a marriage for her son. Now that the wedding date approaches, the bride and bridegroom are to be presented to Léa. This marks the beginning of a tragic love story which causes misery for all concerned.
by Stephen Frears
with Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathy Bates, Rupert Friend, Felicity Jones
United Kingdom / Germany / France 2009