Benoit Poelvoorde and Audrey Tatou in COCO BEFORE CHANEL

Benoit Poelvoorde and Audrey Tatou in COCO BEFORE CHANEL

So last week we had BRIGHT STAR, in which 19th century Fanny Brawne came into her own through her gifts as a seamstress. And now we have Anne Fontaine’s COCO BEFORE CHANEL, in which Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel… well… “comes into her own” is putting it mildly. She frackin’ defined an industry, after all.

Thankfully, this is not SEX AND THE CITY: THE PREQUEL. The clothes certainly are there — in nascent form since the period dealt with here focuses on Chanel’s (Audrey Tatou) earlier years — but given that the story behind the woman who would eventually turn fashion on its ear incorporates a childhood in which Chanel and her sister were dumped off at an orphanage by her father, followed by a brief and unsuccessful fling as a chanteuse (hence the nickname “Coco”), then her becoming the live-in lover of the aristocratic Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde) — with the attendant delicious scandal as she begins to remold the rococo tastes of upper-class fashion into her own vision of beauty — and subsequently finding her true love in the very handsome and very married Arthur “Boy” Capel (Alessandro Nivola), there’s enough consequence here to keep the film from devolving into a two-hour runway show. It also helps that Coco’s intelligence, austere mien, and impulsive drive for success take most of the suds out of the potential soap.

(Just as an aside, turns out that minimalist me digs Chanel’s spare design sense, anyway. Nevetheless, Carrie Bradshaw, you can take your own sweet time returning to the screen.)

I got to talk to Fontaine about Chanel’s impact on fashion in specific and modern women in general, and how one takes Amelie and turns her into a shrewd, determined icon of creative genius. Click on the player above to hear the interview.

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