Tuesday, October 20, 2009

COCO BEFORE CHANEL (2009)


Written and Directed by Anne Fontaine


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. October 20, 2009 5:05PM




Audrey Tautou stars as Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the French fashion designer who was one of the most influential people of the last century, in "Coco Before Chanel". She was responsible for breaking down the social restraints of what respectable women should wear. Chanel helped get them out of corsets, long skirts and impractical hats and into sailor inspired shirts, shorter shirts and comfortable, loose fitting jackets.

The film begins as her father drops her off at an orphanage after her mother has passed away. Gabrielle waits for her father to return for her but he does not appear. This leaves the little girl hardened and bitterly disappointed.

Gabrielle is now a young woman who is employed as a seamstress but she dreams of becoming a singer. She sings in a local saloon at night with her sister, Adrienne (Marie Gillain). After a performance, she meets Baron Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde) who is smitten by Gabrielle but she is not initially interested in him. He was also the one who was responsible for giving her the nickname "Coco". He called her that after hearing her sing a song and not liking her given name. She later finds out he is a very wealthy man which makes him more appealing to Miss Chanel.

After being fired from her job at the saloon and fed up with life in her small town, Gabrielle visits Baron Balsan's immaculate home intending to stay for only a few days but she ends up extending her visit indefinitely while keeping him company in bed. This is where she learned to appreciate the beautiful objects and the lavish lifestyle of the Baron and to disdain the wealthy, vacuous people that populated his parties. It is also here where Gabrielle begins to create a fictionalized past for herself which she did just as well as she created her clothing.

Miss Chanel begins by taking the Baron's clothing and altering them to create a new wardrobe for herself. She also made created hats that were different from what other women were wearing at the time. People didn't know what to make of this eccentric person but they were also intrigued by her as well. One friend of the Baron's, Emilienne d'Alencon, (Emmanuelle Devos) an actress wants Gabrielle to make a hat for her. People love the hat and want one for themselves.

Later at one of the parties, she meets another friend of the Baron's, Arthur "Boy" Capel, (Alessandro Nivola) an English industrialist. They are attracted to each other and soon they begin an affair. She soon finds herself in love with him. He helps her open a boutique and introduces her to potential new clients but "Boy" is keeping a secret from Gabrielle which puts their relationship in jeopardy.

I'm sure that Ms Chanel lived an exciting and fascinating life but this film chooses to focus only on the very beginning of it and in fact, the film actually ends when Chanel first achieves significant success as a designer. This part of her life, while it was slightly interesting, did not require almost two hours to tell.

While I found the performances good and it is beautifully shot, "Coco Before Chanel" moves sluggishly. It feels very drawn out, filled with too many unnecessary and insignificant details of Ms Chanel's life. I am still waiting to see a definitive film version on the life of Coco Chanel. This film is certainly not it.