Coco Before Chanel
Winter 2010 Features series
Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 4:00pm
Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 7:00pm
Directed by Anne Fontaine
Screenplay by Anne Fontaine
Starring Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain
Rated PG ·
A charming and intimate look at the early years of the iconic French designer Coco Chanel, Coco Before Chanel has something for everyone: spectacle, stunning period detail and an outstanding performance by Audrey Tautou (A Very Long Engagement, Amélie) as the headstrong title character. Shunning cliché and sentimentality while sensitively exploring this fascinating personality, the film takes the standard biopic and stretches it in imaginative new directions.
Focusing on Chanel’s formative years before the First World War, director Anne Fontaine (The Girl from Monaco) follows the fashion prodigy’s movement from a humble, impoverished background all the way to the halls of Parisian haute couture. The young Gabrielle, or Coco as she soon became known, spends her days as a seamstress and her nights as a cabaret entertainer, where she catches the eye of the wealthy playboy Etienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde, Man Bites Dog). Before long, she moves to his country estate to serve as his friend, lover and in-house style consultant. Caught in a lavish world where women indulge themselves to excess, she begins experimenting with clothing and designing outfits that are flatteringly simple. Soon thereafter she catches the eye of the Englishman Boy Capel (Alessandro Nivola, June Bug, Mansfield Park), a pal of Balsan’s, who immediately charms Coco and encourages her to use her talent and strike out on her own.
For a film that is, after all, about fashion, Fontaine is most concerned with showing how Coco became Chanel: how a young woman with no money or resources other than a gifted eye and forthright manner became one of the most legendary figures in contemporary fashion. Wonderfully shot and acted, with a keen sense of time and place, Coco Before Chanel is as impressive as it is intelligent.