Coco Before Chanel (2009)

She’s in fashion…

The divine Audrey Tautou’s compelling performance as Gabriel ‘Coco’ Chanel is the beating heart of this sumptuous biopic from writer/director Anne Fontaine (Nathalie). Looking every inch the style icon, even when a penniless showgirl, Tautou is poised perfection throughout, even when the narrative occasionally snags.

Although Coco Chanel lived into her late 80s, and became one of the cornerstones of modern fashion, as indicated in its title Fontaine’s film focuses on Coco during her early life. From dancing girl with dreams of riches, to her determined association with rich playboy Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde) to her passionate love affair with Englishman Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel (a charming Alessandro Nivola, speaking perfect French), so we see Coco transformed from small town nobody to burgeoning fashionista.

Play Coco Before Chanel Clip 1: Coco Walks Alone

As she finds her own style, flying in the face of French traditions of femininity, Coco first intrigues and then influences those around her, and it becomes apparent why she went on to have such an impact on the world of haute couture. It’s not just her innate elegance that she transfers to all of her designs, it’s her focused and intense approach that both casts a spell and is something to admire. Tautou captures all of these facets of Coco’s character effortlessly, being at once angular and aloof, dedicated and determined, introspective and vulnerable.

Play Coco Before Chanel Clip 2: What Is This Outfit?

Of course, she also absolutely looks the part, bedecked throughout in fabulous fashions as Coco first takes her design cues from the world around her, and then finds the courage to strike out on her own. Indeed, the whole film looks uber-chic, with all of Tautou’s co-stars, the lavish French locales and the general mis-en-scene being expertly styled and sympathetically shot by cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne, who consistently frames Coco as the prime focus in her surroundings. So even when the pace dips in the film’s mid-section, when Coco is firmly ensconced in her slow moving life at Etienne’s place and far from realising her Parisian dreams, it’s still a visual treat and lovely-looking enough to forgive its minor faults.

Like Coco’s designs, Coco Before Chanel won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who fall under it’s charms it will prove to be a near-perfect fit.

4 stars

Watch Coco Before Chanel Trailer

Stars Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola
Director Anne Fontaine
Screenplay Anne Fontaine & Camille Fontaine, from the book by Edmonde Charles-Roux
Certificate 12A
Distributor Optimum Releasing
Running Time 1hr 50mins
Opens July 31