I’ve always wondered what kinds of skills are required to make a good biographical film. I’ve always considered the genre of documentation the hardest one – the mere fact that you’re required to fit a great person’s life into just ninety minutes is more than a little challenging. Actually, I find it terrifying.
I’ve read many Coco Chanel biographies, and every time that I finish one I end up with exactly the same conclusion: that she was one the most inspiring people alive, a true pioneer. Most of the people know Chanel as a representative brand of luxury and wealth — but she was much more. She strongly influenced not only what is considered fashionable today but she was the one who changed the rules of how a woman should get dressed. Chanel had impeccable taste, she could combine comfort with elegance better than anyone else and she was, without doubt, the first designer who wanted her clients to feel utterly beautiful and secure in their clothes.
Chanel had the life that any screenwriter would dream of documenting: a hard childhood, a difficult adolescence, followed by a challenging adult life, full of happiness and tragedy, lovers and heartbreaks. To put it simply, a pure transformation. I was eager to see the movie, knowing from the start that it would be impossible to show every aspect of her life. I was intrigued to see what the film would focus on, especially when the title itself insinuates that viewers should expect more of the person, Coco, than of the designer Chanel.
The film follows a real timeline, starting with Coco Chanel as a teenager trying to make a living both as a seamstress and as a singer in a provincial bar. There she meets Baron Balsan, a rich man who helps her entry into French high-society. He offers her a home to live, where she ends up meeting the love of her life – British-born Arthur Chapel. Not long after that, with the financial help of both, Chanel opens her first boutique in Paris. The film focuses basically on these two relationships — and especially the one with Chapel. It was a love affair so important to Chanel that it influenced her forever.
Coco before Chanel manages to show many aspects of Chanel’s personality, but in my opinion fails to show how dynamic she was. As a character, Chanel has been described difficult, strict and determined. And even though these are strong words to use in order to describe a person, they are also necessary for a girl with her background to become a legend. Audrey Tautou, who was chosen to incarnate Chanel is a versatile actor, but in this particular role, she didn’t quite manage to show the complexity of Chanel’s personality.
Written and directed by Anne Fontaine, Coco before Chanel is a biography that doesn’t have time to show much, yet manages to make the viewer to go, search and find out a little bit more about this remarkable designer and dynamic woman.