Coco Before Chanel is a cinematic chessboard of personal politics and black and white design. Of wild horses, reluctant pawns and bishops who refuse to oblige. The queen is of course Audrey Tautou’s Coco; and she observes their moves.
Director Anne Fontaine’s vision of Coco’s life before her enormous success is clean-lined and striking (like a Chanel dress), yet is as familiar as a photo-album.
Evocative images flick from one to another in the scenes that show her childhood: a young Coco in the Convent school, looking at the white sheets on dormitory beds and nuns’ black habits, and Coco gazing at other children being collected for the holidays, leaving her alone.
Tautou and Fontaine establish Coco as an outsider, a stubborn pragmatist who finds it difficult to fall in love. As a young woman she worked as a singer, the kind that sits on men’s knees and drinks champagne. ‘Love is best in fairytales. There is no heart,’ Coco quips to her best friend, shortly before cutting the bodice of her dress, so she can freely move. For Coco, ‘no heart’ allows her to commit to design, releasing her clients from restrictive clothing and setting them free.
Of course, Coco does fall in love. And of course, he’s a man whom she cannot have, and so she remains his mistress. Tautou gives a performance regal and melancholy: an emotional retreat from which Coco can invent with an objective eye.
Director: Anne Fontaine (2009)