Review: COCO BEFORE CHANEL

I’m out of town. This review is by contributing writer Eric Edwards. —PCN

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If you’re looking for insight on who Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was before she became the fashion icon synonymous with class and style, you’re not going to find it in the French film Coco Before Chanel (limited U.S. release, September 25). Watching this is more like attending a fashion show, where we get to see the glamorous clothes paraded down the runway but none of the drama we know is going on backstage.

It’s not Audrey Tautou’s fault. As Chanel, the actress is mesmerizing. Even devoid of makeup and in dowdy clothes, she remains the most enigmatic person on the screen. Perhaps this is why director/writer Anne Fontaine chose her for the lead—it was the only way to make the movie compelling.

The movie opens with two young girls in the back of a horse-drawn wagon being dropped off at an orphanage. Young Gabrielle (Lisa Cohen) and her sister, Adrienne (Marie Gillain), are ushered by nuns into their new place of residence, with Gabrielle lingering in the doorway trying in vain to look into the eyes of their driver. We later learn this must have been her father, but we never know for sure since the older version of Gabrielle often lies about her past.

On visiting day, young Gabrielle follows perfect-looking little girls to the courtyard, hoping to be visited by her father. This never happens, setting the tone for the rest of the film: Gabrielle will always be let down by the men in her life.

tautou & nivolaThe men who later disappoint her are Etienne Balsan (the wonderfully aloof Benoit Poelvoorde), the older and extremely rich man who gives Gabrielle the nickname “Coco,” and the dashingly handsome Arthur “Boy” Capel (the wildly sexy Alessandro Nivola), who represents himself as the man of her dreams until we find out he is betrothed to another.

The two men fight over Coco but the confrontation resembles nothing more than polite conversation during a game of billiards. Arthur provides the funds for Gabrielle to start her outrageously successful hat and dress-making business in Paris, but she finds that no bank will take her seriously without Arthur. That’s glossed over, too. These are only two of many potentially dramatic moments that went unrealized, which makes this as frustrating as a beautiful gown left unfinished.

Much credit is due, however, to cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne, who makes the scenery and Tautou look as striking as Chanel’s famous dresses.

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Reader#9
    September 11, 2009 at 8:50 am

    I heard the book is like this as well, but maybe that is to do with how little anyone knew her maybe? Celebrating Chanel’s life is admirable because she remains an icon nearly 4 decades after her death, but it seems like we won’t ever see a true portrait since she was basically unknowable. It’s either that or some seriously lazy researching.

    Wasn’t going to go to Coco Before Chanel anyway, but I was curious. Maybe I’ll check it out on late night cable someday.

  • Reply
    SCRIPTPIMP
    September 11, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Heard Coco was coming out next week and I was somewhat interested in it. Thanks for giving me the heads up about. Hope some good movies hit the theaters sometime soon.

  • Reply
    FFBUFF8
    September 11, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    But tell us more about the fashion!!!

  • Reply
    EIREGO
    September 11, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    I gotta say, I would watch paint dry if Audrey Tatou were applying it with a brush.

  • Reply
    Shelley P
    September 11, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    Audrey Tautou is a honey, that’s for sure. I was thinking of seeing this for the Paris scenery more than anything but I’ll wait for the DVD.

  • Reply
    yeti9000
    September 18, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Hmmm…sounds kinda bad, but it couldn’t be worse than that craptastic “Coco Chanel” Lifetime movie they did with Shirley McClaine “cigarette acting” her tail off. Yikes…that movie blew chunks.

    I do love me some Audrey Tatou though, so, I might check this one out…

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