Coco Before Chanel (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner29/07/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 110 mins

Engaging, beautifully shot biopic with a great central performance from Audrey Tautou, though the script deliberately leaves out some of the less palatable details.

What's it all about?
Directed by Anne Fontaine, Coco Before Chanel is a biopic about the early life of Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel (Audrey Tautou). Beginning with a short prologue in which young Gabrielle (Lisa Cohen) and her sister Adrienne (Ines Bessalem, then Marie Gillain) are dumped in an orphanage by their father, the film then flashes forward 15 years to find the sisters working as seamstresses and cabaret singers, where Gabrielle gains the nickname 'Coco'.

Beginning a relationship with upper-class patron Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), Coco shows up at his country estate one day and is allowed to stay on; she subsequently befriends Balsan's former mistress, actress Emilienne (Emmanuelle Devos), and begins her career by designing hats for Emilienne's high society friends. Meanwhile, Balsan becomes jealous when Coco falls for English businessman Arthur 'Boy' Capel (Alessandro Nivola).

The Good
Audrey Tautou is superb as Coco, particularly in the early cabaret scenes (the Coco song is extremely catchy). Her later persona is more austere and cynical but she never loses that Amelie-like glint in her eye that tells you there's more going on under the surface.

There's also terrific support from Poelvoorde and Nivola as the two men in her life. Poelvoorde has the showier role and gets all the best lines, but Nivola is quietly brilliant as Boy – he has strong chemistry with Tautou and their scenes together are extremely moving.

The Great
The film is also beautifully shot by Christophe Beaucarne and careful attention has been paid to the set design, with the simplified black and white interiors subtly evoking what will become Chanel's signature style.

The only real problem is that the script plays up the tragic romance angle and completely ignores the more controversial elements of her life, such as the fact that she shacked up with a Nazi. (To be fair, the film is only concerned with her early life, but there's not even a caption at the end.)

Worth seeing?
Coco Before Chanel is an enjoyable, well made and brilliantly acted biopic, even if it stops short of telling the whole story.

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Coco Before Chanel (12A)
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Content updated: 14/12/2017 09:50

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