Sony // 2009 // 110 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // February 16th, 2010
Before she was France's famous mademoiselle...
Coco Before Chanel is the fascinating story of a woman who freed her gender from the constraints of fashion. But the unique approach here is that the film shows us the genesis -- only the very start -- of a remarkable career. Instead of looking at a parade of monochromatic suits and pearls, we witness an orphan who grows into a lost girl unaware of her destiny. Throughout the almost two hours we never can guess how Coco is going to morph into a fashion mogul who will build an empire based on making the simple the definition of elegance. Coco seems lost, adrift in a sea of men who control her. This is not a story about a woman who was defined by men or fashion, but rather one who created her own sense of style because she was desperately out of step.
Audrey Tautou (Amelie) is the only French actress who could pull off this rags to riches journey, because she has the eyes of a visionary. Her performance is comprised of longing gazes, flirty darts under the brim of a hat, and contemptuous glares when the situation requires. She plays Coco Chanel as a woman who can never betray her soul because the eyes reveal everything. Her performance is remarkably inventive, and one of the best reasons to pick up a copy of Coco Before Chanel.
Another good reason is that it is a handsomely made film with excellent production and costume design. Writer and director Anne Fontaine (How I Killed My Father) has a vision, and it translates very well to the screen. This is a production that celebrates the subject without turning toward the usual reverent biopic tones or formula. We feel the sense of being lost in time with Coco, and the path to her fate is filled with doubt. As a viewer it is unique, because we know she is destined to fame and fortune. Yet the journey is an inventive one that the director curiously keeps engaging. It is unique to see a biography that stops just short of the part of the story we all know, but that is why this one works so well.
Sony Classics presents the film on a very nice DVD that showcases a well appointed transfer. There is no digital noise or artifacts, and the picture appears near pristine, with realistic color and nice clarity. The French sound design delivers the dialogue well, and even affords some neat use of surround when it is appropriate. Included for extras are several featurettes as well as a very informative director's commentary. All of these are subtitled since they are in French. There is a look at the making of the film, a more concentrated discussion of the start of the project, and even a red carpet documentary showing people strutting at premieres in full Chanel.
Coco Before Chanel is a remarkable film about a woman that decided the world should conform to her sense of style and aesthetics rather than the other way around. It's a chance to see an icon struggle to define herself. Audrey Tautou delivers a knockout performance, and director Anne Fontaine gives her the right elements to support her character study. Sony provides a great DVD that illuminates the project, and makes things sparkle appropriately. This one is like a Chanel suit -- impeccable, in good taste, and something that will never go out of fashion.
A stylish turn, not guilty because it is fascinating as well as
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13