Tuesday, September 22, 2009


By D.E. Levine

Director: Anne Fontaine
Writer: Edmonde Charles-Roux (book), Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine (screenplay) and Christopher Hampton (collaborator)
Producers: Phillippe Carcassonne, Caroline Benjo and Carole Scotta
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Emmanuelle Devos, Marie Gillain, Alessandro Nivola et al.
Original Music: Alexandre Desplat
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Country of Origin: France
Language: French with English subtitles

For those who didn't know the story of Coco Chanel, this film takes us from the abandoned orphan Gabrielle through her years as a music hall chanteuse who self asserts herself into becoming the mistress of a wealthy playboy, Etienne Balsan, instead of turning to prostitution.

Initially designing a hat and then multiplying her her production at the request of her wealthy lover's female friends, she initially is only trying to better herself and earn a bit of money.

When she moves onto the estate of her lover, Chanel decides to learn to ride a horse. Opting for comfort, she redesigns one of her lover's suits and rides into a picnic clad in trousers and a riding jacket. It's the beginning of an entirely new style in women's fashion.

We see Chanel walking among society women and assessing their uncomfortable corsets and multi-layered garments and then ripping apart her own clothes and redesigning them without corsets and layers so that she can breathe and move with ease.

Throughout the film we are given a glimpse that because Coco was on the outside of society looking in, she was able to glimpse the situation of female garments with fresh eyes and devise comfortable, simple, modern designs that became an essential part of the emancipation of women in the 20th century.

It's never suggested that the road is easy, but it is unfortunate that, as with so many female carriers, Coco's was funded by her male married lover Arthur "Boy" Capel, an English friend of Balsan's who steals her from Balsan and finances her business before dying.

Whether Capel appreciated her designs or was struggling to give her something to occupy her time and fulfill her when he was busy with his wife, is open to conjecture.

At any rate, after his death, Coco took the business to new heights and became a legend in her own right.