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Coco Before Chanel

4.2 out of 5 stars 224 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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)

Special Features

COMMENTARY with Writer/Director Anne Fontaine
Historical Reconstruction
Coco Before Chanel: The Meeting
Walking the Red Carpet: From Los Angeles to New York

Product Details

  • Actors: Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde
  • Directors: Anne Fontaine
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 encoding (US and Canada only)
    Some Region 1 DVDs may contain Regional Coding Enhancement (RCE). Some, but not all, of our international customers have had problems playing these enhanced discs on what are called "region-free" DVD players. For more information on RCE, click .
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
  • DVD Release Date: February 16, 2010
  • Run Time: 110 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (224 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B002LE8MGW
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,000 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Coco Before Chanel" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Merritt on March 13, 2010
Format: Blu-ray
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.
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6 Comments 144 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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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.
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3 Comments 83 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: DVD
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.
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