Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Coco avant Chanel

Coco avant Chanel
Dir. Anne Fontaine
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 105mins

A lot of the time a biopic is a biopic is a biopic. By mere virtue of existing, one must assume that they know where it is going. They don't make movies about famous people whose lives were not interesting, and in the world of filmmakers, "interesting" usually equals things such as "lived in poverty", "addicted to [insert substance of choice]" and "fights through adversity and tragedy." Anne Fontaine's splendidly made Coco avant Chanel (quite simply meaning "Coco before Chanel") follows the blueprint to a tee, and proves to be the root of the film's problems.

Stop if you've heard this one before; A young girl is made an orphan in the French countryside and goes to live with nuns. She grows up and begins to sing in sleazy bars for money before deciding to shack up with a wealthy count who she feels keeps her trapped like a cage, not letting her creativity spread. She falls in love with another man, a love that is destined to end in tragedy before Coco rises from the ashes from her pain and conquers the world. Yes, it sounds an awful lot like La Vie en Rose, the biopic of Edith Piaf from two years back. Coco avant Chanel is better than that one, that's for sure.

The newer film, however, suffers from similar problems - thankfully hacked up editing is not one of them - including an ungrateful lead character who comes off as incredibly unappealing and one that left me asking why all these men found her so gosh darn irresistible. If somebody would like to explain this to me then I'll listen. The film's formulaic plot developments prove disappointing to. There is nothing in Coco that you cannot telegraph from the opening scenes in the orphanage. And that's even without knowing anything about Chanel other than that she designed clothes.

It is, however, the clothes that set this movie apart. Not just the gorgeous duds that all the characters get to parade around in from start to finish - Catherine Leterrier sure did have her work cut out for her and she succeeds with flying colours - but also the scenes involving Coco designing and creating these beautiful garments. I suspected there was much more passion behind these scenes than there were behind others. The way the camera lingers over Coco's hand and she traces patterns and tears away at fabrics and runs her fingers across expensive lace. It is a shame that there was not more of it. The final scene, a fashion show down a mirrored staircase, is divine and it would have been a more interesting spot to pick up the story of her life at.

As Coco Chanel Audrey Tautou gives a performance that is neither good nor bad, just merely adequate, although she impresses towards film's end when she is actually called upon to show some emotions in her face. There are worse things that spending 100 or so minutes looking at Alessandro Nivola, but here he doesn't register. Best in film honours go to Emmanuelle Devos as an actress and Benoît Poelvoorde as Coco's wealthy count. Both should have been given more. All the technicals are ace, too. From Leterrier's aforementioned costumes, Christophe Beaucarne's gorgeous cinematography and Alexandre Desplat's original music score.

Unfortunately Fontaine has not done enough with Coco's story to make it worth telling on anything more than a visual level. And even then, little is put in to explore the artistic process that goes into it all. The movie has horses and castles and pretty clothes and it's very easy on the eye and I was surprised when the film ended because it certainly didn't feel like it had been over 100 minutes long - a problem many films have is being too long and the audience knowing it - but there's little here that will come to define Coco Chanel to viewers. C+

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