Coco Before Chanel (12A)



Drama (2009)
110mins Fr

Starring: Audrey Tautou, Marie Gillain, Alessandro Nivola, Regis Royer, Emmanuelle Devos, Benoit Poelvoorde
Director: Anne Fontaine
Writer(s): Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine, Christopher Hampton
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel and her sister are abandoned by their father and sent to a convent orphanage. Fast-forwarding a few years, the siblings earn a meagre living as cabaret performers and as seamstresses at the back of a provincial tailor's shop. Gabrielle catches the eye of wealthy Etienne Balsan, who installs her as his plaything at a rural retreat, where she develops her unique fashion sense.

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LondonNet Film Review
Coco Before Chanel

At a time when summer blockbusters saturate the market, Coco Before Chanel is a welcome dose of Gallic chic chronicling the rise to fame of one of couture's most revered icons...

TM and © 2005 Fox and its related entities. All Rights ReservedThe central casting of Audrey Tautou, a luminous screen presence since Amelie, should help to attract audiences unfamiliar with the story of Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel, the fashion designer from humble beginnings who became a cause celebre in pre-First World War France. Anne Fontaine's biopic is impeccably coiffed and tailored, employing authentic models and jewellery from the Chanel Conservatory, augmented by Catherine Leterrier's costumes which mimic the fabrics and cuts of the original 1930s designs. Fans of Chanel's pure, flowing lines will coo with delight - the attention to detail is meticulous, including 300 extras in period wear for a pivotal racecourse scene. While this history lesson certainly has sparkle and style in abundance, Fontaine's script, co-written with her sister Camille in collaboration with Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), keeps the emotion buttoned up. There's no clear sense of Gabrielle as a standard bearer for successive generations of women in the patriarchal fashion industry. Also, tumultuous events prior to the climactic catwalk feel a tad rushed; the central character's grief is lost in a swirl of silks and glittering accessories.

TM and © 2005 Fox and its related entities. All Rights ReservedA gloomy opening welcomes the young Gabrielle and her sister to a convent orphanage, where the diminutive heroine refuses to believe she has been abandoned. "I waited for my father every Sunday," she recounts in voiceover. "He never came back." Fast-forwarding a few years, Gabrielle (Tautou) and her sister Adrienne (Marie Gillain) earn a meagre living as cabaret performers for drunken soldiers and as seamstresses at the back of a provincial tailor's shop. Gabrielle catches the eye of wealthy Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), who installs her as his plaything at a rural retreat, where she befriends celebrated actress Emilienne (Emmanuelle Devos). The older woman is enamoured with the gamine newcomer's unusual fashion sense. Swimming against the tide of frou frou and extravagance, Gabrielle dresses in male attire similar to her lover, Englishman Arthur 'Boy' Capel (Alessandro Nivola), who intends to spirit her away from Etienne and his coterie. However, fate has other plans.

Coco Before Chanel takes a few liberties with historical accuracy but remains largely true to fact, exploring the relationship between Gabrielle and her benefactor. Tautou looks uncannily like the couturier and gels nicely with Poelvoorde. The bond with Devos is nicely played but Nivola fails to generate any sparks of chemistry with his leading lady, leading us to question whether Gabrielle is truly a woman in love. Production values are high throughout and Fontaine's film doesn't outstay its welcome, culminating in a triumphant fashion parade and a rare smile from a woman who fought hard for every success.

- Sam Cannon


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