Amazon Prime film review: Coco Before Chanel
James R | On 08, Jun 2013
Director: Anne Fontaine
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola
Watch Coco Before Chanel online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
With Audrey Tautou’s Thérèse Desqueyroux out in cinemas now, we look back at some of Audrey’s other films available on VOD.
Fascinating, wild, unpredictable. One out of three ain’t bad. Anne Fontaine’s biopic of French fashion icon Coco Chanel (Tautou) is captivating, but isn’t quite a perfect fit. To start with, she chooses to avoid the one part of her heroine’s life that would be the most interesting. No mention is made of Nazis or what she did during World War II; for better or worse, this is Coco Before Chanel.
So we start with a little girl, abandoned, shipped to an orphanage after her mother dies. Fast forward to her legal age and she runs away into the real world, taking up work as both a seamstress and cabaret singer. Thankfully, she pursues the former. Making her way in a man’s world, the young Coco (nicknamed after her signature nightclub song) finds herself closed in by society. But without a father figure to steer her through, she is forced to find a fella of finance. Enter Etienne Balstran (Poelvoorde), a rich man with a soft spot for our songbird.
Gradually growing from a bumbling sugar daddy into an overbearing bore, Poelvoorde is perfect as a possessive patron; ashamed of her boyish ways, he hides her in the attic or inside the stables. But then along comes the dashing Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel (Nivola), a self-made Englishman with a fluent French tongue. Switching nationalities with a shake of his moustache, the brooding Nivola is breathtaking to behold. No wonder Coco is so intrigued; he’s seriously charming.
But the heart of Fontaine’s piece is her star: sweeping aside tradition with a self-assured style, Audrey Tautou is mesmerising as Chanel. After The Da Vinci Code, here is a role in which she can breathe. Disdainfully deriding the women around her, she criticises their curves, their identity, their lack of ambition. As she puts it, she has a good sense of distaste – witty and feisty, Audrey has never been better.
Creating hats for the caged women around her, Coco slowly crafts a reputation for herself. In a sea of white dresses, her subtle black number stands apart in the crowd. Singled out in each scene, Christophe Beaucarne’s cinematography elegantly edges towards its lead, centring the frame on her; this is Audrey’s movie, and the camera knows it. The only downer is that the script is so slow, content to convey 80 minutes of story in just under two hours. If it weren’t for Audrey’s enthralling turn, you’d be forgiven for switching off two-thirds in.
Still, this wins points for being no honey-dripped tale of glamorous designs or global fame – that would be Coco After Chanel. Instead, we get a forlorn, sombre piece that builds up to an understated final close-up: Coco sittings on a stairwell as models pass her by in a hallway of mirrors. A captivating image, and one oozing pure class.
Coco Before Chanel is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.