Coco Before Chanel (12A)

Directed by Anne Fontaine
Written by Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine and Edmonde Charles-Roux (book)

Reviewed by Mari Jones

Coco Before Chanel is the story of the life of ‘Coco’ Chanel (real name Gabrielle), an iconic figure of fashion who created her own innovative style. Immediately Anne Fontaine’s film shows us that this woman did not have a privileged life, as we see her and her sister (Adrienne) being taken to an orphanage. However when she has grown up, she is portrayed throughout her life as a feisty and independent woman, realising that women are trapped when they marry and unable to do what they want such as have a career; a revolutionary idea for a woman to have at the time. She also realises that she would rather enter high society on her own merit, rather than simply marry into it.

Audrey Tautou plays Coco brilliantly, making her seem all the more real and the film much more watchable than it could have been with an actress of lesser skill. Alessandro Nivola as her love interest, Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, is a capable actor as well and the chemistry they have on screen is gripping to watch.

The era is expertly portrayed by Fontaine as she shows it in all its lavish glory, paying particular attention to the fashions of the time, which Coco scoffs at. It is also interesting to see Coco developing a fascination with clothes throughout the film and see how she developed her own style, as she creates simple and more masculine clothes for herself and the other women who realise her talent with fashion.

The one flaw with the film is that it does tend to drag during certain parts of Coco’s time spent at the manor of Étienne Balsan (played with effective smarminess, yet not over-the-top, by Benoît Poelvoorde), and certain key scenes appear to be missing when time skips to show Coco suddenly designing her own collection. However it is still an interesting film about a brilliant and fascinating woman whose career spanned over sixty years, and who broke into a male dominated world in a time when this seemed impossible.

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