"The Woman Behind the Famous Name"
COCO BEFORE CHANEL is a beautifully filmed, somewhat romanticized biographical portrayal of fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s journey to become the embodiment of the modern, elegant woman and a timeless symbol for success, freedom and style.
Set in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the story begins with Gabrielle (played by Audrey Tautou) and her sister Adrienne arriving at a French orphanage run by nuns soon after their mother’s death. Orphaned and abandoned by their philandering father, the girls grow and develop skills as seamstresses with dreams of becoming famous singers and performers.
While attempting to make their dreams a success by singing in a nearby saloon, Gabrielle meets a rich racehorse owner named Balsan (played by Benoit Poelvoorde) and strikes up a sexual relationship with him as a means to getting ahead. Her lifestyle begins to resemble that of a courtesan. She eventually moves into his house and becomes exposed to the lifestyle of the rich, unworking class. Observing their style and the discomfort of the clothes worn by the women, Gabrielle begins to radically branch out into making her own clothes fashioned for elegance, comfort and functionality. She evens goes as far as to wear men’s clothing, which she tailors for herself. Soon, the rich women around her begin to notice, especially her hats.
Gabrielle’s relationship with Balsan much resembles a French version of a geisha, and he refers to her as such. Restless with this lifestyle, she seems to associate being in love with marriage and her ideas of marriage are very much influenced by the broken relationship of her parents. At one point, she says she was never meant to be anyone’s wife and that marriage is her mother crying all day at home while waiting for her husband to return from his philandering exploits. She says, “[My mother] died while waiting for my father to come home. The worst thing in marriage is the couple.”
During her stay with Balsan, Gabrielle meets a man named Arthur Capel (played by Alessandro Nivola) who becomes quite taken with her and begins to pursue a relationship. Gabrielle falls very much in love with him and even considers marrying him if he should ask, but her joy is short-lived as she discovers that he is to be married to a wealthy Englishwoman. Hurt and devastated, she decides to step out on her own and start a milliner shop.
Accepting that she can never be Arthur’s wife, she accepts money from him to begin her business venture and decides to continue in the affair with him even after he is married. As her notoriety continues to grow and expand, she is soon able to completely support herself and pay back every cent she borrowed from Arthur.
As the story continues, her real breakthrough success as a fashion designer follows a great personal tragedy, ultimately prompting her to put all of her energies into becoming the well-renowned fashion designer “Coco” Chanel.
COCO BEFORE CHANEL is filled with excellent production values – from the beautifully elegant costumes and colors to the strong performances by Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde and Alessandro Nivola. The movie itself is a delight to watch with well-thought out directing by Anne Fontaine, who is also the movie’s screenwriter. Although the facts and details of Coco Chanel’s life have been romanticized and stretched for the purposes of entertainment, the essence of who she was and her work as a breakthrough fashion designer are captured brilliantly.
Sadly, though, she was also known for being a courtesan. Thus, her sexual exploits leave little room for redeemable qualities in her actual life. She was a strong woman who did what she thought was necessary to get ahead in life, and, unfortunately, her actions were completely devoid of God or moral principles. The movie contains much implied fornication supported by Chanel’s negative view of marriage. Movieguide® advises caution for COCO BEFORE CHANEL due to its sexual content, negative view of marriage presented by the main character, alcohol abuse, and its strong pagan elements.
(Ro, PaPa, Ab, L, SS, AA, D, M) Light Romantic worldview with characters following their hearts and their idealistic lives are devoid of God, also with some strong pagan elements where characters live without any biblical or moral values, often filling their time with sensual pleasures, main character has a negative view of marriage contributed to by the broken relationship of her parents, plus light anti-Christian elements where nuns at orphanage are depicted as abusive; two obscenities and no profanities; no violence; partially depicted fornication, multiple instances of implied fornication, a couple of minor sexual references, and man and woman engage in adulterous affair; cleavage depicted with women’s low-cut dresses but no depicted nudity; alcohol use depicted multiple times with characters getting drunk and drunkenness depicted at a costume party; many scenes of smoking depicted by main character; and man cheats on fiancé and then continues in affair even after he is married, woman sleeps with men in order to get ahead in her career, nuns who run orphanage are presented negatively where it is said that they used to beat and starve main character and her sister, woman modifies men’s clothing for herself to wear not for feminist purposes but for comfort and functionality, and man treats woman like a courtesan and she acts as such at times.
COCO BEFORE CHANEL is a beautifully filmed, somewhat romanticized biographical portrayal of fashion designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s journey to become the embodiment of the modern, elegant woman and a timeless symbol for success, freedom and style. The movie follows the rise of Gabrielle from her early years in an orphanage, to her relationships with men and exposure to the rich and “fashionable” lifestyle. While she pursues romantic relationships with two men, tragic events prompt her breakthrough into the fashion industry.
COCO BEFORE CHANEL is filled with excellent production values, including the beautiful cinematography and richly colored costumes along with the strong performances by the actors involved. The directing is superb, making the movie a delight to watch. The performances are also strong. Sadly, one of the things that defined “Coco” Chanel was being a courtesan. Thus, her sexual exploits leave little room for redeemable qualities in her actual life. Her actions were completely devoid of God or moral principles. MOVIEGUIDE® advises strong caution for COCO BEFORE CHANEL due to its sexual content, negative view of marriage presented by the main character, alcohol abuse, and some strong pagan elements.