Thursday, 6 August 2009

REVIEW: Coco Before Chanel

I think cinema may be the one area of life I don't obey petty gender rules. My bedroom is blue, my footwear are trainers and my hobbies are manly sports involving physical confrontation. But with movies seemingly anything goes, tragic love story about two gay cowboys. There. Romantic comedies starring Meg Ryan. On it. A two hour movie about one of the twentieth century's most renowned fashion designers. Lets do this. And do you know what? it was good, and I enjoyed it. Because in film quality shines through all genres and sociological inhibitions. Ironically this has very little to do with this film, because its mostly about character and not really at all about fashion, but I didn't know that going in and this opening amused me so there you go.

Anyway, the film explores the life of Coco Chanel (Audrey Tautou) before she became the legendary fashion entrepreneur whose perfume is advertised by Nicole Kidman. The film is mostly set in the mansion of French millionaire Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), whose home Coco pretty much crashes at at the beginning because she has nowhere else to go. The film follows the unsociable, distant Coco's relationship with both Balsan and his English business associate Arthur Capel (Alessandro Nivola) and how this affects her cold, detached view of the world. To begin with Tautou is terrific as she is in most films (except The Da Vinci Code) and its a performance of real elegance and subtlety. At first glance it would seem difficult to effectively portray a character so inside herself as Coco is here, but Tautou manages it with ease. I doubt they'll be many better leading lady performances this year, and if all is fair she should get an Oscar nomination. Nivola certainly handles the accent and the French dialect, but as with many of his roles, Junebug in particular springs to mind, he primarily acts as foil for someone giving a much better performance and that happens again here. He pulls of the stoicism well enough. Poelvoorde (of Man bites dog!) fares better, lending his character a real sadness behind all the energy and partying. But considering its such a dense, character driven film, there is little to be done to prevent Tautou from simply walking off with the picture. Visually its restrained, but director Anne Fontaine has her moments of flourish, with a particularly stylish ending coming to mind.

All in all a solid, well made biopic with strong acting. Its pretty much the standard for these things though and the reality of what it is prevents it from being anything original.

Rating: 7/10

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