Coco Before Chanel (2009)
Chanel: The Beginning
Even those who don't care much for fashion will at one time or another heard the name Chanel mentioned, and yes I am one of them. But it makes you realize that to be so well known Coco Chanel must have played a huge part in the shaping of fashion as we know it, so much so that even 40 years after her death the name Chanel is still of huge importance. So you would hope that a biography covering the life of this woman who influenced fashion would be interesting and maybe for those heavily into fashion design it is but for those who are not "Coco Before Chanel" is a beautifully made but ultimately quite dull movie. Technically there is nothing wrong with it, it is beautifully acted, has great atmosphere and director Anne Fontaine paces it nicely but the actual story is not interesting as it focuses on Chanel's early years and her formative relationships rather than on her fashion empire.
So "Coco Before Chanel" as already mentioned basically covers Coco's early years, being left at an orphanage with her sister, where she learned to sew and on to Moulines where she not only helped with costumes but also performed with her sister singing a song that the movie suggests lead to her getting the name 'Coco'. It is a well paced intro which quickly gets us to what is really the main part of the story and that is of the men in Chanel's life with the first being the wealthy Balsan who kept Chanel as his mistress, a life which whilst providing her with security left her feeling used and a play thing as Balsan had her as entertainment. Whilst this is going on we have Chanel meeting Archie Chapel and Englishman who becomes infatuated by the boyish Chanel and likewise she becomes infatuated by him.
What this means is that "Coco Before Chanel" becomes almost a love story as we have Chanel torn between Balsan who kept her financially and Chapel who appeared to be in love with her. But what this also does is also help paint a picture of a woman who through the way she was treated became more and more determined to strike out on her own. This leads us eventually to Chanel opening her first shop in Paris as well as more drama of the romantic kind.
The thing about all this is that if you don't really know much about Coco Chanel you will end up not really knowing a huge amount more by the time the movie ends. You will have learnt that she had a poor start and a troubled romantic life but you don't get to see what to me must is the most interesting part of her life and that is making Chanel a huge name in fashion. Oh we see how she disagreed with fashion of the time, her dislike of corsets and hats which looked like meringues but what you really want you don't get.
It sadly means that the storyline which ends up being a slow romance is quite dull, unless you are a huge fan of Coco Chanel. And it is a shame because there is so much which is good about the movie from Audrey Tautou's performance through to the atmosphere which director Anne Fontaine creates. In fact the atmosphere really stands out and at the same time you get a real sense of how Coco felt at the time, hurt but empowered.
What this all boils down to is that "Coco Before Chanel" is a biopic for those who are heavily into fashion, into fashion history and especially Coco Chanel the person. For those who watch it for a look at how Chanel became so influential will be left disappointed because this is about Chanel's early years and the relationships which formed that period of her life.
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