Coco Before Chanel

ANNE FONTAINE

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB. 

Original title:  Coco Avant Chanel

France, 2009.  Haut et Court, Ciné+, Warner Bros., France 2 Cinéma, Canal+, CinéCinéma, France 2, Playtime, Cofinova 5, Banque Populaire Images 9, Scope Pictures, Le Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral de Belgique, Soficapital, SCOPE Invest.  Screenplay by Anne Fontaine, , based on the book by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Academy Awards 2009.  

The name that is now synonymous with the classiest of haute couture had to start somewhere, as we learn from this entertaining biopic by Anne Fontaine. Gabrielle Chanel (), nicknamed ‘Coco’ by those who know her well, works by day as a seamstress in a dress shop and at night sings for tips in a saloon with her sister (). Deciding to try her luck in the world, Coco abandons everything and runs to the home of an older suitor with whom she has a love-hate relationship. While there she meets a handsome Brit () and, after having denounced all romantic entanglements as impractical and unnecessary, is swept away by him. Frustrations are bound to occur, however, since happy ever afters never include successful careers with eternal merchandising profits, so it isn’t too long before our Coco realizes once and for all that the pursuit of true love will be something that will always offer her unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Thankfully, she has a talent with a needle, and a sense of style that rebels against the ornate, stuffy fashions that cover women from head to toe in baubles and feathers in pre-World War I Europe. Believing comfort to be the key to style, in the end Chanel turns her broken heart into what is probably the most beloved and celebrated name in fashion history; the industry that sells romance and happiness to millions of maxed-out, debt-ridden customers is declared a poor substitute for the real thing.  Tautou’s dead gaze as she stares at her celebrated collection in this film’s conclusion tells us that the fairy-tale magic that she sells on clothes hangers is a replacement for love, not the product of it. A tragic story about a monumental success, executed exceptionally well by a screenplay and direction that never try too hard to be magnificent, and performances (especially from the outstanding Tautou, who has never been more effective) that hit very deep without ever begging for our sympathy. Also featuring an appearance by the wonderful .

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