Coco avant Chanel - (2009) Directed by Anne Fontaine
Starring Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola,
I enjoyed this film, its a limited bio on the early adulthood of fashion pioneer, Coco Chanel. Yet another important figure I did not know a single thing about other than associating the name with fancy clothes. Ironically, fancy is what Chanel's fashion was meant to not be about. Extra fuss and unpractical design was exactly what Mademoiselle Chanel sought to dismantle, believing in freeing the woman's body from corsets, giving her back her shape, as oppose to an unnatural cage that conformed to man's expectation of woman.
The film, I felt, successfully borrowed the style of Chanel, it was free and natural, not romanticizing Chanel, it possessed the 'elegance of simplicity.' However, because of this simplicity, there's an underlying anxiety of greatness, a constant hint of what this woman will have accomplished, influenced, and changed through the course of her life and then beyond; one almost wishes the film were epic so as to see this cause for legacy manifested on screen. But then again, this film should be considered a biographical prequel. And judged as one, I would say I thought it rather well executed.
Three things I hate about prequels:
01. Allusions to the future via catch phrases or mannerisms.
02. Random appearances by people who don't necessarily serve a purpose other than showing them in the past.
03. Darf Vader
Coco avant Chanel had none of these annoying clichés. And yes, I included Darf Vader as an annoying cliché.
The film ended with the beginning of Chanel's success, in a scene made extra special by mirror reflections for an interesting natural effect. Anne Fontaine's bio-pic does not show dates throughout the film; only 1895 at the beginning of the film, which is where the only voice-over narrative takes place (just one line). The film is also shot, at certain parts, by a hand held camera. Much like Michael Mann's Public Enemies, the unsteady movements of the camera in Coco avant Chanel provide me with the opinion that this technique adds a new form of respectful realism to a period piece. Instead of keeping the camera still to avoid the viewer's becoming conscious of technologies non-existing in the setting of the film, it moves fluently but does not alienate the viewer, rather further includes him/her by offering a modern style into the perspective. I feel this works when done correctly because "modern" is relative. 1912 was modern in 1912, our modern camera movements only reinforce that to these characters in the setting, their period is modern. The technique also reflects Chanel's boldness and innovative philosophy, giving the past back its body, allowing it movement instead of the very still cage that frames it for the present.
I'll lastly state my wish to understand french; especially so, in this case, to make better use of actor, Benoît Poelvoorde's performance as Étienne Balsan. He has a really cool voice and his presence is very charming, his character may not always be agreeable but overall you can't find the sufficient means to hate the guy.