Coco Before Chanel
Review by Jack Foley
ANNE Fontaine’s affectionate insight into the early years of iconic fashion designer Gabrielle Chanel is as visually stylish as you might expect from a film of this nature – but it may also leave you wanting more.
Coco Before Chanel recounts the story of how ‘orphan’ Gabrielle (Audrey Tautou) worked her way up through French society to become ‘Coco’ Chanel despite being abandoned at an early age by her father following the death of her mother.
It also charts her relationship with the two most important men in her life – father figure Étienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde) and true love Brit Boy Capel (Alessandro Nivola).
Fontaine’s film is at its most appealing during the early scenes involving Coco and sister Adrienne (Marie Gillain)‘s attempts to fend for themselves while flirting with the upper classes.
It loses momentum somewhat once she moves to live with Balsan and promptly falls for the smooth charms of Capel as it during this segment that Fontaine’s film reverts to a more traditional ill-fated romance style structure, lingering a little too long on the difficulty of the relationship, and not really affording enough time to show how it really spurred her on once it had run its course.
What’s left is a half-told story that puts ‘Coco’ on the road to success without seeing the journey through.
With that in mind, fans of the Chanel brand will undoubtedly enjoy the insight that Fontaine’s film affords them into the early, defining years of the icon, while enjoying the sumptuous look of the movie.
And Audrey Tautou gives a typically rewarding central performance, displaying both the determination implicit with such a legendary figure and the vulnerability that comes with a woman who was forced to endure so much heartbreak. She commands the screen.
Both Poelvoorde and Nivola, meanwhile, provide strong – if unshowy – support as the men in her life.
Coco Before Chanel may not be the definitive story of how one of fashion’s leading lights came to shine so brightly, but it’s an engaging experience that plays best to any really dedicated follower of fashion.
In French, with subtitles
Running time: 110mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: November 23, 2009
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Buy it on Blu-ray (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Alessandro Nivola interview
- Coco Before Chanel photo gallery