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Coco Before Chanel Review

The turn of the twentieth century brought Coco Chanel to the fashion world from a cafe and a seamstressís chair. Hats without feathers, natural waistlines, eschewing the corset, gowns stripped of roses and flounces, Coco Chanel remade women's fashion in her own image. The initial shock soon turned to enthusiasm and made Coco Chanel one of the biggest names ever in the world of fashion, a name that still rings true today.

Coco Before Chanel (Coco avant Chanel), a brilliant French film, follows Gabrielle Chanel from her seamstressís chair to her brief foray as a singer called "Coco" at a French cafe where she meets Monsieur Etienne Balsan who engages her time, attentions and heart. When Balsan says, "It's time for friends to say good-bye," and walks away with a parting, "Good luck, Coco," she packs her other dress and her sundries, takes her last money and follows him to his country estate, where he greets her with, "What are you doing here?"

While staying with Balsan, two things happen to Coco. First, she discards the tastes and trappings of fashion and enters into her own look, which is a scandalous look. Second, she meets Englishman Arthur Capel, who asks Balsan, "Can I borrow her for two days?" Her disregard for fashion's rules and her encounter with Capel change her life forever and with it the world of women's fashion. (We could use another Coco today.)

French actress, Audrey Tautou, who played Agent Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 2006), is Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. Her portrayal of Coco captures the finesse of Coco's hesitation and independence in one stroke. Being naturally timid because of your station in life, Gabrielle was raised in an orphanage, seems an unnatural mix with clear-sighted independence, but Tautou consistently shows Coco is possessed of both and acts on both. And then, Coco blossoms under the fragrant aura of success, first in her millinery shop and then in her fashion shops. The two gentlemen in Coco's life are played by Benoite Poelvoorde (Balsan) and Alessandro Nivola (Capel), who match Tautou in excellence, beat for beat.

Coco Before Chanel is directed and in part written by Anne Fontaine, whose first commercial directing success was La fille de Monaco (The Girl from Monaco) (Fontaine, 2008). Anne Fontaine's directing of this period piece, Coco Before Chanel, is impeccable: The eras are truly represented, the deportment of the characters is authentic and the aesthetic is much more than inviting.

Coco Before Chanel is PG-13 and has a level of intensity, sensuality and sexuality that precludes young ones from seeing it before they reach the age of thirteen. But for all the grownups (personally, I wouldn't recommend it for thirteen year olds), this will be a memorable film that you won't want to miss. [Coco avant Chanel, French Drama with English Subtitles.]

Anne Fontaine - Director (2009)
Edmonde Charles-Roux - Writer - Book: Chanel and Her World
Anne Fontaine - Writer
Audrey Tautou - Coco Chanel
Benoite Poelvoorde - Etienne Balsan
Alessandro Nivola - Arthur "Boy" Capel
Marie Gillaine - Adrienne Chanel

Buy Chanel and Her World at Amazon Edmonde Charles-Roux authored the book that Coco Before Chanel was drawn from, available at Amazon.

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