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Art and Entertainment - Movie Reviews

Rated PG-13
French/sub titles
1 hr. 50 min.

Director Anne Fontaine's quintessential rags to riches story gives us a glimpse into the formative years of the single most influential figure in 20th century fashion, Coco Chanel. Coco, (Audrey Tautou) was a true original who quite literally made rags into riches.

The tale begins when a wagon load of children, including Gabrielle Chanel, clutching her ragged doll, arrive at a French orphanage. Gabrielle and her sister are left by their widowed father. They longingly wait for him, but he never comes back for them.

As young women, Gabrielle and her sister try to survive by singing in a cabaret of the Moulin. There, Gabrielle meets a wealthy man, Elienne Balsun (Benoit Poelvoode), who promptly nicknames her 'Coco' and quickly becomes her lover. Even with the help and encouragement of her benefactor, Coco is just not that talented as a cabaret singer and so moves on to working as a seamstress. This early training teaches her the basics of what is to come, as she starts designing what is eventually to become, simply, Chanel.

She doesn't realize how wealthy her older lover truly is, until she decides to visit him at his country estate. She likes what she sees, a large country estate complete with large country mansion, horse stables, servants, silver service on the terrace, her own beautiful room filled with antiques and a large bathtub she adores. After she feigns visiting her sister, she decides to stay and live in the custom that her wealthy lover has become accustomed to. At first, he treats her like a servant as his hidden mistress. She quickly learns that she does not like dining downstairs with servants or eating with dirty napkins. Thru sheer cunning, she wheedles her way into the minds and hearts of his friends and eventually him. He describes this "as letting a fox into the coop". As she settles into country life, she starts to observe how uncomfortable women dress with corsets bound up so tight that they can hardly breathe or move freely. She rejects and makes fun of women's fashions of the time, describing hats as "meringues worn on top of their heads". She rejects the over ornamentation of the day, instead, choosing to sew her own clothes that are loose in structure and simple by comparison. This simplicity sets her apart. She feels she has superior taste in what she describes as, "her good sense of distaste".

She eventually falls in love with Arthur 'Boy' Chapel (Alessandro Nivola), a younger friend of her wealthy lover. Their affair is short lived as she quickly finds out that her true love is about to marry a wealthy woman. There is a beautiful scene of her lying in fallen leaves, at the foot of a thick mossy green tree knowing in her heart that she will never marry. Although she is heart broken, she continues the affair after 'Boy' explains, "even though he is married, nothing has to change". After her move to Paris, he finances her into her first antelier. She quickly becomes a designer to Parisian wealthy women. Her happiness with Guy, however, is short lived, as he dies in a car crash just outside of Paris.

After her lovers death, Coca cuts her hair short, as the symbol of a woman about to change, and change she does, as she gets down to the business of creating an empire.

Although this film could have had more passion along with the fashion, it is still a worthy subtle glimpse into Chanel's early life. Tautou's portrayal of Chanel, although flat at times, still helps us to understand the strength, sheer will and head strong steely determination of an extremely intelligent woman, who had to overcome the huge obstacle of poverty, trying to make it in a man's world without marriage. Coco Chanel never married or had children, her legacy lies in her vision of elegance thru simplicity.

Chanel No. 5 stars out of ten ***** .




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