I have only seen Audrey Tautou in a few movies (Amélie, Dirty Pretty Things, and Auberge Espagnole), but she is a wonderfully actress. In Amélie she gives a wonderful performance and uses her awkward facial features to create a fantastically memorable character. In Coco avant Chanel, Tautou plays the French fashion icon Coco Chanel. Anne Fontaine's film depicts the life of Coco Chanel from her youth until she became a prominent figure in haute couture. Other than knowing that Chanel is a revered fashion house established by Coco Chanel in the 1920s, so admittedly I knew nothing about her life prior to viewing the film. There is a striking resemblance between Audrey Tautou and Coco Chanel, yet throughout the whole film I was expecting her to give an Amélie-esque wink (maybe due to me watching Amélie the night before). The film's emotion rests heavily on the fact that viewers understand that the young Gabrielle will one day become Coco Chanel. You watch Coco avant Chanel and anticipate a huge reward for suffering though Coco's young life... except it never happens.
Gabrielle Chanel and her sister Adrienne (Marie Gillain) were orphans who earned a living as seamstresses. The two girls also worked in a nightclub, singing one song a night, called Coco. Adrienne met a man and soon moved to Paris. His friend, the Baron Balsan (Benoit Poelvoodre), becomes quite amorous of Gabrielle and begins to call her Coco. After Adrienne moves to Paris, Coco finds it quite difficult to establish herself on the nightclub scene as a solo act. She ends up on the doorstep of Balsan and soon becomes an uninvited house guest. Coco remains a hidden guest in his house until he discovers that she can be used to entertain his party guests at night. She befriends an actress Emilienne (Emmanuelle Devos) and eventually creates hats for her and her socialite friends to wear. While Coco and Balsan do not have a formal relationship, he treats her as his property. She meets a young business associate of Balsan, an Englishman named Arthur Capel (Alessandro Nivola--a dead ringer for Joseph Fiennes). As their relationship grows, so does her need to work and the woman named Gabrielle will eventually become Coco Chanel.
I had high hopes for Coco avant Chanel and ended up being quite disappointed once the film ended. Throughout the entire film I was waiting for the moment when Gabrielle would suddenly realize that she was Coco Chanel and that she had a passion for fashion... and this never happened. There were scenes where Coco showed a distaste for women's fashion and the film did demonstrate that she was quite a hat maker, yet it all seemed to lead to nowhere. Audrey Tautou was wonderful in the role, but the film would have worked a lot better if a significantly greater amount of time was allotted to Coco's life as a fashion icon. There was such great promise during the beginning of the film and as the film slowly continued, almost laboriously, I realized there would be no payoff.
My rating: 2 stars out of 4.