Monday, November 30, 2009
Coco Before Chanel **1/2
Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola
Marie Gillain, Emmanuelle Devos
"Coco is extravagant" says Gabrielle Chanel (Tautou) when someone suggests she should start using that name instead of her own.
This reaction and defense towards simplicity might have described the career of the woman who changed the course of fashion in the twentieth century.
The house of Chanel became known for its sleek, simple luxury and even pieces from the latest collections include the essence of what Coco intended when she started designing hats.
Anne Fontaine's biopic, like most movies of its kind, relies heavily on the audience's conception of the famous person in question.
This also gives the actors playing them the liberty to interpret them as they wish before the time when they became famous.
In such a manner Tautou makes out of Coco a fierce, strong woman who had no problem saying the first thing that came to her mind while smoking a cigarette.
Long before she became the pearl and tweed clad goddess of fashion/Nazi criminal, Tautou creates her as a businesswoman.
During her youth we see her singing in cabarets, but actually just looking for a man to look after her. She strikes gold with the millionaire Étienne Balsan (Poelvoorde) who becomes her protector. It's in her stay in his manor where she also meets Englishman Arthur "Boy" Capel (Nivola) who became the love of her life.
And so the movie consists of scenes where Coco delivers potent one liners, wears men's clothes and eventually realizes she might just have a knack for fashion.
Fontaine remains absolutely reverential and reveals little about Chanel making the movie a rather lazy enterprise that relies essentially on the title cards that appear before the end credits.
Those who have no idea what Chanel accomplished will leave the theater feeling cheated and those knowledgeable of her career will just feel teased.
Tautou does her best to make this woman engaging, but her performance remains on a very superficial level and plays her like the rags-to-riches, by way of social climibing, heroines we've seen a million times before, as if she has forgotten she's playing the woman who once said that "in order to be irreplaceable one must always be different."