(Originally blogged October 6, 2010)
I saw this film a while ago but didn’t blog about it at the time because it was after the film had left the theatres. However, people keep asking if I have seen it, so I am finally putting fingers to keyboard and writing a review of Coco Avant Chanel.
There were filmed interviews done with Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel in the 1960s. At that time she was old, cranky, self-important, dismissive, arrogant, and annoyingly spoke in sound bites so she would be quoted. Despite her personality quirks, she knew how to self-promote and bend the truth in the interest of putting a spin on some of the more difficult parts of her life. The only more secretive Parisian couturier than Coco was Madame Gres (aka Alix).
Coco Avant Chanel is considerably better than other biopics about Chanel’s early life but it just barely touches upon her early career. This bare bones history implies most of what happened occurred over a year or two, but the events portrayed (aside from childhood flashbacks and the finale flash forward) took place over about a fifteen year period.
The film does depict how Gabrielle learned to succeed, often by using the men in her life. She possessed an adept ability to style herself but there is too much credit given to her ability to style others. The film almost suggests that French women had no taste or style until Chanel arrived and single-handedly banished the corset. This is simply not true. The abandonment of the corset had more to do with the changing role of women and a lack of steel during World War 1 (an event that is nearly omitted from this film), and if you had to pick one designer who was responsible for the banishment of corsetry it would be Poiret, not Chanel. Chanel was a milliner until she began making seaside clothes from jersey at her shop in Deauville during the First World War. Her fame as a couturier did not really blossom until after she had launched her No. 5 perfume and the boyish ‘La Garconne’ look of the mid 1920s was in vogue. This was around the time she adopted her more familiar first name ’Coco’.
Audrey Tatou admirably finds the hardness of the old Chanel to portray in minute amounts of the young Chanel — you can see where Coco’s character developed as she hardens to the realities of life. When she realizes she is used goods in the eyes of society and will make no man a suitable wife, she turns to a career in fashion, first as a milliner and later as a couturier.
If you took away Audrey Tatou and a few key scenes in the film, you would be left with a soap opera of a film, and I can’t say I was enamoured with the costuming, although those worn by Tatou are exquisite, the extras are not always decked out with the same attention to detail. This part of her life has now been retold a few times on film and it’s not really that interesting for the costuming because it’s more about the development of her character.
I look forward to the day when a film is made about the next stage of Coco’s life from her runaway success as a designer for the modern woman in the late 1920s, her hobnobbing with Paris’ artistic set, and her rivalry with Schiaparelli in the 1930s, her traitorous behaviour during WWII, self-imposed exhile, and quiet return to fashion in the 1950s, culminating with the development of her iconic suit style in the late 1950s. This is a film waiting to be made! However, for Coco Avant Chanel, I can only come up with a 7/10 for the costuming.