Anne Fontaine’s thoughtful exploration of the pre-fame life of the world’s greatest fashion designer focuses on Coco Chanel during the Belle Epoque. The film opens in 1893 with a powerfully grim scene of 10-yearold Coco and her sister unceremoniously dumped at an orphanage and ends around World War I, a few years before the Chanel empire is launched. In her strongest performance to date, Audrey Tautou expertly conveys Chanel’s struggle against the formidable limitations that an ambitious, non-wealthy woman at the time faced—particularly one who refused to marry. The designer, a proud peasant who wasn’t ashamed to sometimes distort the truth, sought to liberate women from the oppressive fashion of the time: suffocating corsets, pounds of extra material, and hats that looked liked “meringues.” Fontaine’s complex biopic refuses to completely lionize its subject, insisting on examining the compromises Chanel had to make. Though she may have been aided by her rich lovers, namely millionaire Etienne Balsan and English industrialist Arthur “Boy” Capel, Chanel remained fiercely independent, becoming a great visionary—as evident in the film’s fantastic coda, when an older Chanel sits on the famous steps of her couture house as contemporary models march past her, wearing her greatest designs.
“The result is an unusually vivid and convincing account of the historical past, composed in the present tense. Though its mood and methods are different, Coco Before Chanel shares with Jane Campion’s Bright Star – another new antibiopic – a fascination, at once intense and dispassionate, with the lives of women in earlier centuries.”
A. O. Scott, The New York Times.
Anne Fontaine & Camille Fontaine, based on Edmonde Charles-Roux’s novel Le Temps Chanel
Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel: Audrey Tautou
Étienne Balsan: Benoit Poelvoorde
Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel: Alessandro Nivola Adrienne Chanel: Marie Gillain
Emilienne d’Alençon: Emmanuelle Devos
Best Costumes, Catherine Leterrier – César Awards (2010)
LANGUAGE French, English
RUNNING TIME 110’
PRODUCTION France, 2009
FORMAT(S) 35mm, DVD
Sony Pictures Classics