Coco Chanel: the surly years

Posted in Movies by on October 20, 2009

Coco before Chanel (Coco avant Chanel)
Dir: Anne Fontaine

In an old house in France,
all covered with vines
Lived 12 little girls
in two straight lines.

Little Gabrielle Chanel, dressed in stern grey and white, grows up in a Catholic orphanage run by nuns wearing black and white habits. She spends the rest of the movie trying to make French women lose their flouncy, feathered hats and red dresses, and dress more simply, just like at the orphanage.
Coco before Chanel covers the early stages of the career of the successful, self-made French designer. Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (Audrey Tautou) — nicknamed for a dancehall number about a little dog that she performs in a bar with her sister Adrienne — wants to rise up from her humble origins. She tries valiantly to launch her career by becoming the mistress of Count Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde), a rich dilettante, and Boy Capel (Allesandro Nivola), a French-speaking, upper-class Englishman. She shows her independence by smoking cigarettes, riding horses in men’s breaches, and pouting and sulking amid her rich friends’ decadence. In between parties, she chops frilly lace off of gaudy dresses, flings whalebone corsets to the floor, and makes tiny black dresses to wear to the ball — paving the way for French women to be free from loud clothes.

But the movie is over by the time she’s made the transition from rags to riches, leaving out the really interesting parts of her life that followed. I would have liked to have seen the years she spent shacked up in the Ritz with her high-ranked Nazi lover in occupied Paris; or the aftermath, where she was forced to flee France in disgrace for her war crimes. Instead, the movie tiptoes gingerly from the rebellious young woman to the rehabilitated grande dame. See this movie if you enjoy looking at costumes, horses, stately mansions and old furniture. But if you’re looking for an exciting story, don’t look here.

One Response

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  1. Alanna Cavanagh said, on January 4, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Hi Daniel,
    Loved this. The title made me burst out laughing and your review is hilarious and spot on.
    (I went to the film with great anticipation and was bored)


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