Most people, if asked to describe the clothes of Chanel, would use adjectives like clean, classic, elegant. If asked to describe the person of Coco Chanel, if they even knew the answer, they might use adjectives like austere, gruff, reserved. Actress Audrey Tautou, who portrays her in this new movie, "Coco Before Chanel," spoke afterwards about her. She described the poignant final scene as the moment when Chanel shut down everything that came before and became the revered icon we all came to know. The one who changed fashion forever, arguably more than any other person.
So what was "Coco" (real name Gabrielle "Bonheur," aka "Happiness, quite ironic) really like? Before the House of Chanel? And why should we care about that?
What I really found fascinating about the film is how although it's definitely stuck in its time (the late 1890s and early 20th Century), Coco Chanel herself is quite clearly a woman ahead of her time. How does a visionary get from an impossible situation to creator of an empire? One stitch at a time, apparently.
She just kept doing what she did, and one thing led to another.
The film begins with Coco and her sister being deposited at an orphanage, their father not looking back. How they made their way as best they could: singing in cabarets, finding men to latch onto, whatever they could.
What really remains as a throughline of Chanel's character, though, is how determined she is to land on her feet. And how though there really wasn't a career for women doing what she did best, she created it.
All of that, perhaps, one would expect from a movie about Coco before Chanel. What is really unexpected, and beautiful to see, is the love story.
Belgian actor Benoit Poelvoorde is wonderful as the first strong man in her life. But the lingering love story between Tautou's character and American Alessandro Nivola is charming and engaging to watch. For me, that was the best chunk of this movie.
There have been many movies made about the Coco Chanel we knew. When have we ever seen her in love? And with a lover who realizes and appreciates who she is, and finally sets her in the right direction? It was really beautiful.
Having seen many of the previous Chanel movies, this movie finally left me with a realization of who this woman really was, and why she was the way she was. Well worth a watch.