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Coco Before Chanel


Stars: Audrey Tautou, Alessandro Nivola, Benoit Poelvoorde, Marie Gillain, Emmanuelle Devos, Lisa Cohen

Director: Anne Fontaine

Pleasant to watch and elegant to a fault, this could have been one of the great biopics if only it had more to say. Despite her beginnings in an orphanage run by nuns, the early life of fashion giant Coco Chanel (Tautou) simply doesn't have enough drama in it to sustain the interest beyond its surface sheen.

We meet the adult Gabrielle, soon to be nicknamed Coco, working as a seamstress by day and, with her sister Adrienne (a sympathetic performance by Gillain), singing in an upmarket cafe by night. Dismissed from her nighttime job, Coco decides to take an aristocratic admirer (Poelvoorde) up on his offer of a visit.

Prolonging her stay and learning to ride a horse, Coco is repelled by the aristo's life of debauchery, and dresses more staidly (and mannishly) than the bejewelled ladies who flit in and out of the chateau. She does, however, fall for one of the noble's business acquaintances, Englishman 'Boy' Capel (Nivola) and they embark on a wild affair.

The film has already been trimmed by 20 minutes from its original length, but still hasn't enough substance to justify a near two-hour narrative. Visually, though, the movie is a thing of beauty - each scene carefully composed. Tautou, a dark-eyed combination of Jean Simmons and Isabelle Rossellini, is a little old for the young Coco, but has an assurance and gravitas that underlines her determination to succeed.

David Quinlan

France 2009. UK Distributor: Optimum. Duboicolor.
110 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 24 Jul 2009