Jul 27, 2012

[Movies] Coco Before Chanel (2009)

My recent review of Amélie reminded me of the fact that I still had not seen this particular Audry Tautou movie. That's always part of the challenge of foreign movies - you need to either wait for a local release or source a copy with the appropriate subtitles. And since we recently acquired a copy, the past weekend seemed a good a time as any to watch.

Now as much as I'm homosexual, I can't say that I'm the sort of guy who gets into "fashion" per se. I still wear shirts that I've owned since my high school years and I'm a bit of an idiot when it comes to buying new clothes for myself. Just recently our family went to Singapore and I hardly picked up anything at the major brand label stores. However I did spend way too much money on over-priced geek shirts related to the likes of Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica and of course the Transformers.

But getting back, the fact that Audrey Tautou was bringing to life such an iconic public figure, I was definitely curious to see how she'd perform in the role. Plus there's the fact that we don't exactly see her in many movies and so it's always quite the delight to watch her in action again.


Synopsis: Coco Before Chanel (Coco avant Chanel)is a 2009 biographical drama French film directed by Anne Fontaine. The screenplay was written by Edmonde Charles-RouxAnne Fontaine and Camille Fontaine. The movie was nominated for several awards including some from the Academy Awards, the BAFTA Awards, the European Film Awards, and the César Awards.


The movie covers the early life of famed fashion designer Coco Chanel (Audrey Tautou) before she became the fashion icon that she is today. Thus the story starts with her humble beginnings of one Gabrielle Chanel (Lisa Cohen), a orphan left behind by her father. She and he sister Adrienne (Marie Gillain) eventually grow up to become seamstresses and part-time singers at a local pub. It's not much of a life but she makes the most of it given her much bigger dreams of fame and fortune for her and her sister.


But after her sister falls in love with a Baron and hopes to be married to him someday, Gabrielle, now nicknamed Coco because of the song that she performed, eventually agrees to be taken in by one Baron Étienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde). This helps improve her lot in life although the Baron's rather lavish lifestyle and lackadaisical friends aren't quite to her liking. But through him she gains access to the French high society who seem to be enamored by the hats that she makes. And eventually, she meets an English colleague of Balsan named Arthur Capel (Alessandro Nivola), who appears to be quite enamored by the deceptively "simple" girl.


The movie was definitely an interesting adventure - and I say this beyond my love for Tautou. While she is naturally remarkable in how she brings Coco Chanel to life, the rest of it is an interesting tapestry focused on her early life where we get only the faintest hints of her eventual success as a fashion designer. In fact, those determined to see the movie for that sole purpose may be disappointed since this is a story of her life as an individual and not the fashion icon that she becomes in the long run. There are beautiful moments, yes, but it's not the whole picture by any means.


A lot has been written how the movie does not sugar coat things in any way. The folks behind the movie present a rather...honest view of her life and some may object to the angle they took in telling her story. But quite frankly. I feel this only strengthens her legacy as an individual to see all that she surmounted to become the giant of industry that she still represents to us today. And thus this rather uncompromising presentation of her life does make for gripping story telling.

I liked how there was a definite effort towards creating rather beautiful set pieces in terms of a lot of the shots. And thus full credit must go to Anne Fontaine for her vision in putting this movie together in order to tell the story of a rather remarkable woman.

Despite the focus on Chanel's personal life, there remains to be interesting progression in how she eventually develops what becomes her rather signature style. From her humble beginnings as a seamstress, we eventually see how the experiences that she goes through eventually color and influence her fashion choices and later designs. It does make for a fun shift over time and one that adds a nice flavor to things

Coco Before Chanel is not quite your typical biographical film but it is still a beautiful one. Thus I happily rate it 4 Chanel suits out of a possible 5.
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