Audrey Tautou (The Da Vinci Code, Amélie) shines in this intriguing portrait of the early life of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, the orphan who would build a fashion empire and be known universally by her nickname, Coco. She journeys from a mundane seamstress job to boisterous cabarets to the opulent French countryside, possessing little more than her unwavering determination, unique style and visionary talent. Also starring Benoît Poelvoorde (In His Hands) and Alessandro Nivola (Junebug). Featuring lush settings and stunning costume design, Coco Before Chanel is the gripping and dramatic story of an icon who defied convention and defined the modern woman.
Before she became Coco, the world-famous fashion designer, Gabrielle Chanel (Audrey Tautou in a fiercely determined performance) struggled to make ends meet. After her mother's death, her father deposited her and her sister, Adrienne (Marie Gillain), at an orphanage, where they learned to sew (and where Chanel developed a taste for monochromatic ensembles). They went on to become cabaret singers, but when Adrienne runs off with a wealthy suitor, the newly christened Coco must go it alone until she meets gentleman farmer Étienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde). She lives comfortably at his chateau, but he refuses to take her out in public, so she puts her skills as a seamstress to good use and designs outfits for his lady friends, like Emilienne (Emmanuelle Devos), an actress. Chanel's situation improves further when British investor Arthur "Boy" Capel (Alessandro Nivola with an impeccable French accent) enters the scene. Her working-class origins present less of a problem with Capel, though the couple will have other issues with which to contend. In the meantime, he gives her the money to open her own Parisian studio, and the film ends with the tweed suit-clad Chanel of the popular imagination. Until that time, writer-director Anne Fontaine (The Girl from Monaco
) presents a very different character, a woman who wasn't worldly or sophisticated, but who saw no reason why fashion--or "style," as she called it--should be complicated or uncomfortable. In transforming herself, Coco Chanel transformed an entire industry and, arguably, an entire gender. --Kathleen C. Fennessy Stills from Coco Before Chanel (Click for larger image)