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Coco Before Chanel

August 25, 2010

Coco Before Chanel (2009)
Director: Anne Fontaine
Actors: Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola

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Synopsis: The clue is in the title: Coco before Chanel!

Review: This has to be one of the most impeccably crafted and tasteful biopics ever made – and perhaps that’s appropriate given that the subject is the early life of legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel. The narrative (for the most part) eschews hysterical storytelling, and the performances are uniformly excellent with Audrey Tautou giving a surprisingly mature and restrained turn in the lead role. Arguably most of the developmental focus has gone into bolstering the shimmering period detail and textural lustre of the film, and, though that accords to an extent with a story about a woman’s growing sense of where she belongs in the material world, it also stifles the narrative.

The movie also fails to satisfactorily answer the single most important question about Coco Chanel: what is it that’s so interesting or even admirable about her life? Yes, there are vague nods to the idea of her as a harbinger of feminism and modernist values, but these themes are not stringently pursued and the filmmakers betray themselves by desperately applying a not very convincing “doomed love” tangent to the film’s final act. (December 2009)

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