Coco Avant Chanel: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Alessandro Nivola, Benoit Poelvoorde
Director: Anne Fontaine

Having conquered the New Zealand International Film Festival - and the hearts of TVNZ fashionistas Michiko Hughes & Clifton Piper , this biopic about the early life of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel now finally opens nationwide (although the South Island has to wait until August 20th for its release).

Audrey Tautou stars in this tale of how Chanel overcame the adversities in the early stages of her life to become the icon we all now know.
It's quite a somber take as we first meet Chanel as she's abandoned at an orphanage in 1893 in France with her sister - and she desperately waits for her father to return.
However, when that doesn't happen, Chanel resigns herself to a life of hardship in France - and quickly discovers she's going to have to assert herself in a man's world.

Coco Avant Chanel is an interesting look at the designer and the hurdles she had to overcome - and at times, maybe it's because of viewing it with 20th Century eyes, she doesn't always come across as sympathetic - she's fairly ruthless and could be viewed by some as manipulative as she tries to claw her way into society and to be taken seriously.
However, on reflection, this was the only way open to Chanel - and she's quite right to use it to her advantage - because based on the man who serves as her patron, Etienne Balsan, is nothing more than a boor and a beast who demeans Chanel at every turn.
And while Tautou conveys the steeliness well, she also manages to portray subtle peeks into Chanel's frailties and grief at key moments during the film.

None of this is more evident than when she begins her relationship with the Englishman affectionately known as Boy Capel (Alessandro Nivola) - it is here that we get more of an insight into the human behind the tragedy - and an understanding of what shaped the woman who would define fashion for so many.
Even though there are some slow parts, it's Tautou's film though once again - but overall, Coco Avant Chanel is an intriguing look at what made the icon - and while the fashions are ever present in her early life, there's an emotionally satisfying pay off at the end as we see her creations take to the catwalk.