Full movie film review Coco Avant Chanel (2009)
A biopic about the most prominent female fashion icon of the 20th century isn’t the type of movie that you will generally catch me watching. But thanks to all the hype generated in (not just) the fashion circles and the fact that it featured Audrey Tautou, the most prolific French actress of her generation, I finally decided to give Coco Before Chanel a shot.
The film, in its entirety, is a treat to watch. Albeit it’s dragging in places, but these sequences are well-compensated by well-constructed witty repartees (“Which weren’t very enjoyable thanks to the awful subtitles” my co-watcher adds. “Learn French then!” I ask him!) The cinematography is excellent, with the occasional doses of French countryside dotted into a fairly indoorsy setting. The expensive chateaus are examples of some fine set-designing and the costume designed by Catherine Leterrier (with films such as Joan of Arc and Gorillas in the Mist to her credit) contributes to the early-20th Century feel which is so essential to the story.
A biopic of Coco Chanel would have always been a rather hard thing to achieve. With her tendency of colorfully fabricating her history to alleviate the stigma brought forth by poverty, illegitimacy and orphanhood in late-19th, early 20-th century France, it was left to the biography of Coco authored by Edmonde Charles-Roux to supply the source materials (“Which it somewhat sticks to” my co-watcher asserts.
I wouldn’t know about that!) for the movie.
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel (Audrey Tautou) takes up a tailoring job after spending nearly her entire childhood with her sister Adrienne (Marie Gillain) at an orphanage in Aubazine, with her father out at work nearly the entire year. At 18, she takes up work at a local tailor’s and the two sisters become cabaret singers at night. It is in the bar where the two sisters meet French billionaire Étienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde), who is neck-deep in race horses and women. Coco and Balsan start having an affair of course, and simultaneously begins her quest of liberating women’s fashion from ‘fit for male gaze’ to ‘comfort’. However, Balsan’s friend, Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel (Alessandro Nivola) comes into the picture and Coco falls head-over-heels for him.
Audrey Tautou is fabulous as Coco Chanel. Her slightly subdued act with the occasional bursts of energy and determination artfully hints of the underlying woman who would go on to be the only person from the fashion circles to be included in Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of the 20th century. (“Coco Chanel was known for her flamboyance and devil-may-care attitude, which the film mostly missed, don’t you think?” my co-watcher asserts. I don’t know what he’s talking about!) Among the male leads, Benoît Poelvoorde steals the show with his ‘Balsam’ act. His cocktail of lechery, jealousy, kindness and love is an act that will be etched in the viewer’s minds for a long time indeed. Nivola is not bad as Capel, but the extreme downplaying of his portrayal fails to pack a punch. (“Both Tautou and Nivola were so downplayed, they were bound to fall for each other!” my co-watcher jokes) Finally, Anne Fontaine mostly impresses as the director and writer. Taking up a story with so many morally gray aspects, cross-dressing agendas and a name as big as the fashion industry itself is an immensely challenging task! And it’s safe to say, Anne Fontaine achieves quite a bit in her attempt.