Saturday, July 3, 2010

Coco Before Chanel

Directed by Anne Fontaine.
2009. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Audrey Tatou
Benoît Poelvoorde
Alessandro Nivola
Marie Gillain
Emmanuelle Devos
Etienne Bartholomeus
Lisa Cohen

Fashion icon Coco Chanel (Tatou) was not born a famous fashion designer. Before she helped usher everyday women’s attire out of constrictive corsets, hats that could double as gardens and elaborate dresses that took teamwork to get into, she took the hard steps that led to her success. This is what Coco Before Chanel is about, sort of.

Chanel is an important figure because she helped change the world. She built an empire at a time when women either weren’t allowed to or thought incapable. She was a huge influence to the generations of women that followed. This is the movie I wanted to see. I wanted to see her raging against the machine or taking the world by storm. This is not the movie I saw.

The movie I saw focuses on yet another lame cinematic love triangle. At least, the latter half does. The two men vying for her hand feel more like benefactors than lovers. In fact, that’s exactly what the older one of them is. Though she sleeps with him, she doesn’t love him. She appreciates him and tolerates him for his wealth but seems to harbor no passion for him. On the other hand, she’s totally ga-ga over the younger, more handsome fellow, imagine that. Though he’s not quite as rich, his main draw seems to be he's well connected and willing to use those connections to help her. The dilemma isn’t nearly as perplexing as it is made out to be. By the way, the first half of the movie just sets all this up.

Eventually, Coco does move to Paris and is very shortly a fashion mogul. All that stuff about taking the world by storm, becoming a success in what was then a male dominated profession and helping to change the perception of women is given to us in a couple brief paragraphs at the very end. Shame.

That said, if you’re looking for artsy-fartsy this is a beautiful film to look at. It’s shot wonderfully and Tatou gives an excellent performance in the lead role. She’s most famous for playing the title role in the acclaimed Amelie. Coco is a far different woman. Where Amelie was quirky and naïve, Coco is cold, calculated and headstrong. To her credit, Tatou is no less believable as either. If you must watch this movie, do so for that reason. Oh, and beware if you’re a subtitleophobe. The movie is in French.

Also in 2009, Hilary Swank played Amelia Earhart in a biopic about the legendary aviator who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean trying to circumnavigate the globe on a solo flight. That movie also concentrates on the love triangle she spent a good deal of time embroiled in. How sad is it that two movies made during this supposedly enlightened era, even directed by women, choose to simplify their subjects to the lowest common demoninator between two men?

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