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  Publicity Stills of
"Coco Before Chanel"
(Courtesy of Festive Films)

In French with English subtitles
Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain, Emmanuelle Devos
RunTime: 1 hr 44 mins
Released By: Festive Films & GV
Rating: NC-16 (Scene of Intimacy)
Official Website: http://www.festivefilms.com/

Opening Day: 27 August 2009


The word “Chanel” immediately invoke a sense of understated beauty and opulence.

“Coco Avant Chanel” tells the story of the women behind the word, Gabrielle Chanel. Not only a document of what ‘Chanel’ has come to represent today, “Coco Avant Chanel” tells the story of a humble seamstress who grew up in a poor, rural household and went on to become a lengendary couturier as well as a symbol of success, freedom and style.

Audrey Tautou brings to life a women who fought to break free from the oppressions of the confines of her time. Tautou shows us a little girl send to an orphanage who waits in vain for her father every Sunday, a cabaret performer with a weak voice who sings to an audience of drunken soldier, a young, skinny courtesan, to whom protector Etienne Balsan offers a safe haven, amongst the idle and decadent and a woman in love who knows she will never be anyone’s wife.

With the assistance of the Maison CHANEL, who opened their archives and collections to the production, “Coco Avant Chanel” presents a rich tapestry of a life’s work and legacy, featuring original costumes which illustrate the quintessential style of Chanel from its inception onwards. Director Anne Fontaine brings together beautiful performances from Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Emmanuelle Devos, Marie Gillian and Alessandro Nivola, along with Catherine Laterrier’s stunning original costumes and a mesmerising original score from Alexandre Desplat.

Movie Review:

We know we shouldn’t be condoning something unhealthy like smoking. But you know how it has been often depicted in fine culture and as a result being associated with solemn contemplation, quaint and fine art. Artist = Twirling cigarette smoke? You’ve got it. So when we saw the local promotional poster of this Anne Fontaine directed film, we were wondering where the cigarette in everybody’s favourite Audrey Tautou’s hand went to? If you did some research in the original version of the poster, you’d see a cigarette – not a fountain pen, in her hands. While we do not want to comment on the state of affairs of local censorship here (that’s not the point of this review anyway), we would like to think that the pioneering French fashion designer Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel depicted in this film wouldn’t approve of such an act.

Oh, and the fact that this is a French film, that definitely brings about an artistic mood it will put you in.

Tautou takes on the role of the famed French fashion designer, bringing to screen the woman’s rise from obscure beginnings to the heights of the fashion world. The 104 minute film chronicles her early life as a seamstress who also sings at a cabaret, before meeting the men who would change her life forever. Beneath the symbol of accomplishment, independence and fashion, we see a woman who is, like every one of us mere mortals, a human being who is enthralled by the possibility of true love.

We may not be experts in telling you about the complex life of the real Coco Chanel whose modernist worldview, menswear inspired fashion pieces and an extraordinary influence made her such an inspirational figure, but we can tell you that this production does a fine job in bringing us on an extraordinary journey of an inspiring human spirit.

It is probably a European thing, but we always find films from that part of the world more refined. The nuances depicted in their films, the touches of elegance and the graceful tones are just what you don’t get in abundance in a Hollywood “wham bham it’s a slam” movie. And that is also the reason why this picture left us speechlessly moved in its final act, where Chanel takes the definitive step into the fashion world. Moving forward only with visuals, a delicate music score and of course, Tautou’s mesmerizing performance, this segment is shot without dialogue and brings the film to an appropriate end. It will go down as one of our favourite closing scenes in recent memory.

Tautou (Hunting and Gathering, Priceless) is joined by other reliable actors like Belgian actor Benoir Poelvoorde (Narco: The Secret Adventures of Gustave Klopp) and American actor Alessandro Nivola (Grace is Gone) who play the men who had significant impact in Chanel’s extraordinary life. Although these aren’t your usual leading men material, their performances complement Tautou’s ever affecting acting to make the entire film engaging to sit through.

This is one autobiography with a protagonist you will care about, and one you’d hopefully be inspired by when you walk out of the theatre. When you see that chic brand sported on luxury goods like handbags, perfumery and cosmetics amongst others, we hope you will take a moment to reflect on the admirable spirit of the woman behind that symbol.

Movie Rating:

(A work of fine art)

Review by John Li


. La Vie En Rose (2007)

. Hunting And Gathering (2007)

. Angel (2007)

. Priceless (2006)

. Capote (2005)


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