Saturday, August 08, 2009


I am the target demographic for this film. A woman of a certain age with a penchant for period romance and a handbag collection worth the output of a small African country. Coco Chanel defines a large part of my wardrobe, shoes, handbags and cosmetics. More profoundly, I am a career woman, and Coco Chanel was not just a radical fashion designer but also a formidable businesswoman who founded a global brand.

Why, then, did I find this movie so dull? The problem is that COCO AVANT CHANEL wants to tell us how Coco got to Paris, rather than how, once in Paris, she built her global business. The film argues that to know Coco as a young woman is to know all - a highly reductive stance. So we see very little of Coco designing anything, or of her famous business sense. Rather, the film focuses on her struggle to break out of the role pre-WW1 France had ascribed to her: resigned to being a working class shop-girl, a bauble for rich men to be traded like property, trussed up in corsets and unable to breathe.

It's a shame that a woman as radical and, yes, politicised, as Coco didn't get a movie as brave as she was. Rather we get a rather schmaltzy period romance in which our poor young heroine foists herself upon a rich Milord, only to fall for a young English businessman who will marry for money. The whole thing is filmed beautifully, in sumptuous period settings, with a lush score from Alexandre Desplat. But Coco's spikiness is near-smothered by the sepia-tint. It's also deeply hypocritical for the movie to praise Coco's iconoclastic stance and her fierce independence, while, at the same time, reducing her life to one thwarted love affair.


COCO AVANT CHANEL was released earlier this year in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Israel, Australia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal and Poland. It is currently on release in the UK. It is released in August in New Zealand, Germany, Argentina, Singapore, South Korea and Norway. It is released in September in Japan, Sweden and the USA. It is released in October in Russia and Brazil; in November in Greece, Finland and Bulgaria and in December in Denmark.

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