Coco Before Chanel Review: (Almost) Seamless
With a number of Chanel biopics showing at Cannes, the impending release of The September Issue that chronicles US Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s preparations for the biggest magazine of the year, and, erm, the style wunderkind that is Bruno, 2009 looks to be shaping up as the year for fashion-orientated films.
Coco Before Chanel, based on the book by Edmonde Charles-Roux and directed by Anne Fontaine, follows a young Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel from her humble orphanage beginnings to her stint doing cabaret, later focusing on her stay in the house of playboy Etienne Balsan in the early 1900s, where she would fall in love with Brit Arthur “Boy” Capel.
Audrey Tautou is perfect playing the coolly headstrong Chanel. She scoffs at the flamboyant, curtain-like fashions of the time, opting for a more restrained aesthetic. We watch her journey from talented seamstress to hat designer, to eventually the genesis of international fashion powerhouse Chanel.
The film gives a tantalising insight into the nature of Coco, offering secrets like jewels out of a box, though it sometimes frustratingly doesn’t seem to go deep enough; though then again, what better illustration of her allusive character?
It is very much a French affair; every shot is beautifully crafted, the story glides along with elegance and without haste. It allows the audience to wallow, absorb, and enjoy the characters that Coco encounters.
The wit is subtle – though delightfully so – and naturellement there is the odd jibe at the English. If you ever wondered what 20th Century provincial French life in the upper classes is like, this movie is for you.
Fashionistas may be disappointed though. As this is Coco before Chanel, Chanel as a designer and the clothes she makes feel a little like an afterthought, jarring with the overall tone of the film.
However it is a treat to see the style of clothes she wears during her stay at Balsan’s and their shapes echoed in her first collections that continue to influence today’s catwalk trends.
Coco Before Chanel does have ulterior motives, gradually (d)evolving into a love story, spotlighting Chanel’s relationship with “Boy” Capel. While this plot development may serve for the film’s pigeon-hole-ability, (so it’s not just a biopic) the ride is such a pleasant one that’s so nice to look at, it is forgiven.