Coco Before Chanel [Coco avant Chanel] (2009)

Starring Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain

Directed by Anne Fontaine

Expectations: Moderate.

Going into this movie I expected a tale of how Coco Chanel became a fashion giant, how she built her empire. Instead, I was treated to a simple love story, that funnily enough, was pretty devoid of love. This is definitely not my general type of movie. I have nothing against a good romantic movie, it’s just not a genre I’d specifically pick over something I’m more interested in. I find so many romantic movies to be formulaic and boring, so I generally overlook them. Coco Before Chanel is without a doubt a slow, plodding film, but it has a purpose and it builds towards it well.

The film opens with Coco as a small child, her father dropping her off at the orphanage. This abandonment instills within her a reluctance to trust men and influences her later decisions. The film jumps forward to when Coco is about 20 or so and singing at a saloon. She is noticed by the Baron Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde) and the two develop a relationship. This gives her a foot into the upper class of French society and through Coco’s determination she remains true to herself and her personal style.

The film’s plot can easily be summed up in a few sentences but it isn’t fair to the film at all. Anne Fontaine has crafted a very moody film that stays with you long after the credits have rolled. The lead performances by Tautou and Poelvoorde are fantastic and they are very enjoyable to watch together. There are a few scenes early on where Chanel is shown quickly altering a dress that seemed kind of out of place. If I remember right, it had not been established that she was employed as a seamstress during the day, so the scene just seemed like a nod to everyone in the audience that knows where her story ends up. A minor annoyance but it took me out of the film.

As much as I enjoyed watching Coco Before Chanel, I felt that it was a bit slow. Not really in a bad way, the film didn’t feel long, it just wasn’t completely interesting at all times. I can attribute this to my lack of love for the genre, but a part of me thinks that if the film was better made I wouldn’t have had that problem. Visually, the film is a little uneven. At times it is incredibly average to look at, while other shots are composed extremely well and look fantastic. The film’s focus is Coco Chanel, groundbreaking iconic fashion designer. I expected the film to at least at some level to mirror some of this style throughout but that’s only really the case in the final scene, which was one of my favorite scenes and almost brought me to tears. It was in those last moments that the entirety of the film’s story hit me and I recognized the emotional weight that had held the film down.

If you’re in the mood for a subtle, minor-key love story bio-pic, then give this one a chance. It’s pretty good.