I saw Coco Before Chanel the other day. Being prepared for something more girly than that, I felt sad and attacked by lurking sadness in the heart of such an iconic figure. Then I read Roger Ebert's appraisal for the film's unsentimental approach to Chanel's early years, and I couldn't agree more; Coco had a tough childhood, being one of many children of a single mother, who died very early. She was raised up by strict nuns, and had even more adventures until she started her hat-making business. Casual clothing for holidays in the seaside followed. Until she became Chanel and she started ruling the fashion world.
The film seems quite truthful to her story; one could expect that from a French film, I guess. Hollywood has its sweet recipes; it always succeeds in making up some extravaganza moments, then genuine enthusiasm, energy and wide smiles the American way (which is what everyone is used to, what everyone expects and...well, even myself I should reconsider the definition of happiness; I'm already deep in the process). Anne Fontaine is strict with her heroine -or is it that Chanel remained strict and sad in her real life? After an Englishman she really loved died, she personally admitted that was devastated and "what followed was not a life of happiness I have to say." These statements get on my nerve, but what if they are true? What if fame, money and creativity cannot bring happiness? Well, then all this annoying thing called "life" is such an unfair and monstrous thing, that is better to be avoided. Just kidding.
The film made quite some bucks, and garnered dozens of prizes pretty much everywhere: BAFTA's, Césars, European Film Awards. It was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Costumes -that bit it deserved. Audrey Tautou is a good actress and this film is not an exception. She feels and shows her internal turbulence, those big eyes help a lot. Belgian Benoît Poelvoorde is the one I would praise here the most, though; knowing him mainly from comedy, his flexibility on approaching a demanding role of a guy who starts off as amiable, but gradually becomes less so, without losing his affection towards Coco, nevertheless, is astonishing.
The film certainly raised many issues regarding femininity versus androgyny, marriage versus emancipation, real love versus loneliness. There was no fine line in Fontaine's take on early Chanel. One more thing: why the heck do they glamourise smoking in France still? We're in 2012, no offence, smoking is bad for your health, anti-smoking laws are passing everywhere, but they will never touch European Cinema, I know. I'm not talking about a ban on anything here, but is there a need to exaggerate? Ok, Coco Chanel was imitating men in their ways; she was dressing up inspired by their simplicity, being brave and had lots of guts, went horse-riding and she was smoking A LOT. I got it. She was smoking like a chimney, if you excuse me the expression. Does that help me somehow on my understanding of her grandeur, imagination and creativity? Does it?
*I chose specifically this photo as a homage to what Chanel did for Fashion. Audrey is featuring the iconic Tweet Jacket, pearls -probably fake, as the fashion designer herself liked it- and red lipstick. What would Fashion be without Chanel (or what would we be without Chanel)? Even if her life was not happy enough, she succeeded in spreading a lot of happiness around. Not only to fellow women; to men, quintessentially. You know that she invented the little black dress...