I'm a guy. Okay. Let's get that out of the bag right now. I'm not overly fond of what I wear. Blue jeans and a t-shirt suit me just fine for most occasions. So when my wife wanted me to watch a foreign film about some gal named "Chanel" who was a famous clothes designer, I felt like I was in for an early bedtime (I can easily fall asleep during boring films).
So we slipped the DVD in and proceeded to watch what I assumed would be an incredibly monotonous film about a lady making clothing. I could hear my wife already: "Oooh. Isn't that beautiful." Or "Look how well she hemmed that pinafore" (whatever the hell a pinafore is ...and can you hem it? I still don't know).
But, much to my surprise, the film was more a myopic on the early life of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel. Hence the name Coco BEFORE Chanel. Duh. Guess I should've paid better attention to the title.
There's certainly information and dress-wear visuals throughout, but the movie is more honed toward what made Coco who she would become later in life. Audrey Tautou plays the prime role of Coco and does so with grace, beauty, and a unique gruffness and individuality that struck me as incredibly honest (I did not enjoy her performance in The Da Vinci Code, so this was a nice change). She really carried the entire film and made every scene extremely watchable.
But the screenplay by writer/director Anne Fontaine was what helped keep this film together. Like I said at the beginning of my review, I felt that if it had expressly focused on clothing and the making of clothing, I would've been sawing some serious Zs before 30 minutes into the film. But I wasn't. Similar in concept to The Devil Wears Prada (which I also enjoyed mostly because of Meryl Streeps stellar performance), the film never lingers overly long on things that simply don't matter at that point in Coco's life. It is her lovers, her fiery desire to do something with her life, and her heartbreaks that made her who she would become, not the clothes (those were developing and came later).
So if you're like me, and don't know Chanel from Shinola, you still might give this one a try. Your wife will probably love it, and you'll score some points with her for watching it. Just don't give her the credit cards after finishing it. I just looked online at the cost of Chanel wear and ...well ...you don't wanna know.
on November 28, 2009
Coco Before Chanel is aptly titled; it follows Coco Chanel from her time in an orphanage, but it stops where most people become familiar with her story. The film stars the delightful Audrey Tatou as Coco. Perhaps my favorite thing about Coco Before Chanel was it's honesty. I confess to loving the feel-good rags to riches biopics as much as anyone, but it's rare to see a biographical film provide hope with honesty and without sappiness. Most of the film is not feel good. It's hardly depressing, but it is real. Coco didn't have an easy life. She and her sister were orphans, and they fought for opportunities. Coco makes some decisions she may not be proud of, but she doesn't regret them. She doesn't have the dream of becoming a fashion designer from day one, just as few of us truly know what we'll end up doing from the beginning. Her skills, experience and desire for self-sufficiency slowly evolve to lead her to it.
The film is a little slow, but it's similar to the pace of her life. It seems like it's not going anywhere for awhile, and if you didn't know what Chanel is, you might think that. I personally thought the subtitles were a little fast. My French is decent enough to understand some of the dialogue, but I often read the subtitle before the characters had begun to speak their lines. The beautiful lulls of dialogue featured the next subtitle, which threw off the pace a bit for me.
The beauty of the film comes in its last half hour, when it becomes clear the slowness was in fact subtlety leading to a mesmerizing and poetic final half-hour. It's the kind of film one might be tempted to stop watching if she were at home, but ends up loving. It truly is a film that is the sum of it's parts. It works as a whole, but it's not necessarily riveting from the opening frame.
It's a beautifully feminist film; it's an honest look at one woman's struggle and journey for her place in the world. It's not a film with universal appeal, but it is a fantastic, beautiful, and inspiring film. If you like foreign films, historical films, biopics and strong female leads, then I highly recommend this film.
on December 14, 2009
If you are looking for a fashion history with lots of dresses a la project runway, this is not your movie. It is a moving portrait of the very early life and influences on Coco Chanel. The film is beautifully shot, scored, acted, and subtitled. As other reviewers have noted for the CD sountrack,the music is fabulous, and the movie is visually gorgeous. The acting is superb. Audrey Tautou is another great french beauty and star; I'm sure I will not be the first to compare her to Katherine Deneuve.
This movie unflinchingly shows the young women of the time for whom love with marriage was rarely an option as they were simply chattel forced to marry well by birth, become nuns, sleep their way to wealth and security as mistresses and courteseans, or have nothing as prostitutes. The only single working women other than prostitutes and a few writers were on the stage, in convents,or providing clothes for wealthy women. The film follows the young Coco through her world as a abandoned child in a catholic orphanage and then a mistress/houseguest of a vastly wealthy nobleman. It touches on her good luck in timing to get her accounts away from her lover in time to save her fledgling business.
We see how the lifestyles and even the health of wealthy and frivolous women were drastically changed by the comfort and function of her designs and her eye for beauty. This picture is a period piece that builds slowly, is very French and assumes you already know a bit about Chanel. It is at times quite subtle leaving a lot of the plot obvious but not presented onscreen. It would companion well with a more detailed documentary like "Chanel Chanel" with Chanel and Lagerfield, but it does present an excellent picture of "Coco's" youth and is a good picture on its own. The whole picture is beautifully acted eye candy and the dessert at the end is lovely as we are given a show of Chanel looks throughout her life. I did not give it five stars only because at times I think it was a bit too subtle as those not familiar with the period could watch the film and not fully understand the dramatic changes in the lives of women led by the dramatic changes in fashion they were witnessing.
on October 28, 2009
This film about Coco Chanel in her early years is a delight to see. The cinematography is beautiful, the musical score romantic, the actors make the characters come to life. This film is more about her early relationships and first love and her non-conformistic view on fashion and independence. I loved every minute of it. Audrey Tautou is wonderful as Coco. Alessandro Nivola is a captivating Boy Chapel and Benoit Poelvoorde is a great cast as Balsan.
on April 27, 2010
Coco Chanel lied habitually about her life; she didn't like it, so she made up a better one. Anne Fontaine has created one possible version of Coco's formative years, settling on a girl who is perpetually observing, who grows up into a woman who surprises herself with her influence. Audrey Tautou is almost determined to be grim, an anti-Amelie, in her portrayal of this haunted, driven woman. Benoit Poelvoorde is astonishing as Etienne Balsan, one of the men she uses and is used by -- and ultimately develops a friendship with. He is bawdy, raucous, jaded ... and falls in love with Coco when it's too late. His scenes with her when he realizes his mistake are mesmerizing. "Does that bother you?" she asks, about her leaving for Paris with Arthur Capel, and he simply replies, "Affreusement (frightfully)." Watch how Poelvoorde turns him from a cad into her friend. And Alessandro Nivola did one of the wildest, dumbest things when he agreed to learn French for this role. It's not clear whether he should be commended or committed. Commended, I suppose, because his accent stays pretty good -- and it was a good decision not to cast an English actor precisely because of the accent. It's Nivola's English accent that is a little dodgy here and there. I can't think what to make of his characterization. On the one hand, Coco is attracted to restraint, and presumably he had that personally. On the other, the effect is somewhat that his foreign lines are too studied for him to deliver naturally. Nevertheless an interesting performance from him.
Emmanuelle Devos is always good, and she's great here as a composite of two people in Coco's life at this time. Likewise Marie Gillain as another composite of her sister/aunt.
Coco and her sister were abandoned by their father, raised in an orphanage, and according to the conventions of the time, destined for little but prostitution or the life of a mistress. The movie depicts a silent girl who above all becomes a keen observer of the textures of her world: the nuns' habits, the excesses of women's dress of the period. This point is somewhat overdone by the end of the film, but nevertheless makes the point that she developed her sense of style by paying close attention to everything she saw; in some sense she sensed also that she needed to see more in order for that to develop. Her sense of style, her sense of restraint, became her armor against the pains of her existence, but not even it can protect her at a pivotal moment with Arthur.
At the end, a time-warping retrospective of her work in a re-creation of her famous salon in Paris reminds us that, with little in the way of resources, she made a lasting impression on the world. I found the substance of the movie far more dramatic than I would have thought; impressive performances make it a movie you must see.
As another reviewer mentioned, I am a guy and at first I was a little reluctant when my wife wanted to watch this movie. BUT, I am a photographer and into fashion, so I thought it might be a good watch! I was definitely pleasantly surprised!
WARNING: If MTV doesn't make you dizzy and you don't notice how often The View changes camera angles, you probably will find this movie slow. The scenes are mostly without "action", and you better be prepared for long camera shots. That said, I absolutely loved the serene scenes, and the enchanting dialogue. Just a little bit of nitpicking - I hate it when translators change the words of songs. I understand dialog cannot be word for word, but a traditional french song loses it's charm when incorrectly translated. I have spoken french for about 20 years now, and it irked me. That said, my wife said it was nice to get the real meanings when I translated.
The blu-ray quality was pretty decent, a lot sharper than the original. It was lacking in film grain, but I am assuming the original was like this and was not digitally denoised.
Overall, take a Saturday afternoon and give it a go. If you are interested in fashion, France or if you own a little black dress, you owe it to yourself to see the origins of P'tit Coco!
With over 160 reviews as I write this one the movie has been thoroughly dissected. I am going to give my personal impressions, which are subjective. Other reviews will provide different facets of this movie.
First, the portrayal is perfect. I have extensively read about Coco and the more you read the more you get a sense of her real character. This film (and especially Tautou's interpretation) manage to capture it in a natural and realistic manner. Moreover, the cinematography is gorgeous and realistic. I have actual photos of Chanel and some of the scenes, costumes and poses are based on those.
Liberties were taken with facts - they always are. In the case of this movie they would have been necessary anyway because Chanel had a tendency to leave out details and/or embellish facts of her life. She was more interested in creating an image than the truth, and that - I am sure - gave the screenwriters more license than usual. Still, the basic facts are there.
While this is the early years and comes to an end when Gabrielle establishes success and imprints herself as Coco, there are still missing parts of the story. Some are relevant (she certainly had more lovers than those portrayed in this movie), but in order to keep the story moving the focus and story arc is narrow.
This is not a documentary, but a story. If you approach it as such you may enjoy it and get a sense of Chanel's beginnings. There are a lot of facts mixed in with stretches of truth, but the acting gives a realistic idea of Chanel herself. The cinematography and photography also add to the realism.
on December 12, 2009
Loved Tautou as Chanel in this beautiful biopic! It covers Coco's life as a young child and then proceeds to adulthood as she finds her passion for fashion! It is beautifully filmed and tells the story of her life in lush detail as she proceeds from a not-so-talented cabaret singer to a seamstress and then to the quintessential and innovative designer of haute couture and gorgeous yet sensible fashion. I loved it! I can't wait until it is released all over the US or released as a DVD so I can see it again. I highly recommend it!
on December 22, 2009
I'll be VERY brief - already amazing reviews here.
Please-please don't fogret that the movie is called "Coco BEFORE Chanel".
It's about her childhood and youth and HOW she became Chanel, not about fashion in general...although you can see already how great she will become, how she's changing women's fashion in the beginning of the century - simple hats,stunning glorious elegant dresses, no corsets,sailor shirts,mans pants,short hair & coveted little black dress and why...
She's just starting out and the movie is showing you HOW - that's the point!!!
P.S.A great movie to see after this one is "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky" - not available yet,it was shown in Cannes and you can see the trailer on Youtube( the book is FINALLY available in States, I bought my copy of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky in London in 2002.Buy the book for now - you won't be able to put it down!!! I read it in 2 days. )
on August 26, 2011
Audrey Tautou is again fabulous onscreen as the tough as nails independent Coco Chanel. the movie follows her life right up to the point where she decides to actually become a fashion designer.
The sets look terrific and the acting throughout is superb. The ridiculous addition of a fictitious character who plays Coco's sister (in the extars you learn she's an amalgam of Coco's aunt and one of her sisters) to show Coco's gentle side was just plain silly. Given how dramatic Coco's life was it just seems as if the screenwriter and director fell back on some Hollywood tradition of thinking the actual true story of famous people's lives are not enough. The funny thing is this comes out of France of all places.
The extras feature lengthy interviews with the cast and crew. The version I had were the hearing impaired ones that had the various stage movements (i.e., [door closes], [footsteps heard], etc.) along with the subtitles.