May 16, 2012
Coco avant Chanel 
The 2009 French movie, starring Audrey Tatou and directed by Anne Fontaine, follows the story of the famous designer before Chanel; it documents her stay at the Balsan mansion and her affair with the two men that played an important part in her life, each loving her as best they could.
One was the owner of the fabulous mansion in which she lived for a while, doing nothing more than entertain his guests; not a mistress, but not quite a wife, either. The other, the one who eventually captured her heart, was Boy, an English businessman she met during her stay with Balsan. Etienne offered her a place to stay, companionship and kindness, whilst Boy was the love she never believed could exist. It was a rather bittersweet story and certainly not a happy or inspiring one, but it had its wonderful moments and it portrayed Coco Chanel in a different way, by focusing on her earlier life and her journey to the woman we all know now.
From a filmmakers point of view, the film was visually beautiful and nicely directed, although I would have liked more color and a more artistic approach to the cinematography. I liked how they showed that Coco was always paying attention to details and shapes and accessories, and it was interesting to find out that she first started in the business by making hats. The costumes were fantastic and I instantly fell in love with her black dress from her first trip with Boy to the casino; her runway show at the end was also stunning and I love the style and the transformation from the poor girl in the orphanage to the successful Parisian designer. In a world of corsets, pastels and overly accessorized attires, she stood out with dark colors, masculine style and stripes. She knew exactly what she wanted and she was lucky enough to have both Balsan and Boy close to her to help her achieve it.
Casting-wise, I thought all 3 were perfectly chosen for their respective parts. Tatou's performance in this movie was beautiful. I like to think of her as a modern Audrey Hepburn, but French and only slightly less charismatic. She knowingly surrenders herself to the somber, strict and straight forward character of Gabrielle and shows a wide range of layers and subtleties to a rather enigmatic person. Although she was thought to be an introspective, elegant and cold woman, she did have her moments of happiness and childish behavior, but only Boy and sometimes, her sister, were the ones fortunate enough to witness it. Benoit Poelvoorde, as Etienne, the older, but always entertaining man, went from portraying an interested boy, to a naughty lover, to a jealous man in just a couple of months spent with Coco, and gave a wonderful performance. Alessandro Nivola played Boy with a natural charm and sensuality that would conquer almost every woman...I admit it, I fell for his act, and I do find it believable that Gabrielle did, too.
All in all, Coco avant Chanel was an interesting movie and an enjoyable way of spending an evening. If you are interested in fashion or if you love Audrey Tatou, I recommend it.