Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Apr 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Black To Basics

film_cocoBold outsider reinvents chic in ‘Coco Before Chanel’

Who doesn’t love a big, lush, biographical drama about a real-life woman who defies the conventions of her day to make her own place in the world? As long as the writing is at least plausible, and the actors don’t trip over the furniture, this is a pretty fool proof formula—especially for female audiences hungry for stories of self-empowerment. The story of  Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who rose from impoverished orphan and rural milliner to become one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th Century, is—sorry— tailor-made for this kind of treatment. Still, in her thoughtful and persuasive Coco Before Chanel, Belgian filmmaker Anne Fontaine brings something extra to the mix; every lovely frame of the film is informed by the filmmaker’s resonant empathy for Chanel as a stylist, a woman, and an outsider hungry to succeed on her own terms.

Adapted by Fontaine and co-scriptwriter Camille Fontaine (no relation), from the first half of the 1975 Chanel biography by Edmonde Charles-Roux, the film begins like classic Gothic fiction. Just before the turn of the last century, little Gabrielle and her sister arrive by horse and cart at a gloomy, foreboding gray-brick orphanage in the French countryside—where their roving father abandons them after the death of their mother.

Fifteen years later, Gabrielle (now played by the piquant Audrey Tatou), is a young woman working at a seamstress’ shop in the town of Moulins. At night, she and her sister, Adrienne (Marie Gillain) sing music hall songs at a neighborhood bistro and pass the hat, hoping to finance their dream of a stage career. Their signature song is about a lost little dog called “Coco,” which also becomes Gabrielle’s nickname. Admired for her trim figure and dark eyes, but notorious for her “blunt” tongue, Coco doesn’t care about chatting up the customers. But when Adrienne goes off with a baron, and her own stage aspirations fail, Coco sensibly allies herself to middle-aged, but good-hearted, playboy Etienne Balsan, and moves to his estate outside of Paris.

Under Balsan’s financial protection (although irritated, if resigned, that she has to become his “geisha,” in return), Coco tries to decide what work will bring her the fame and fortune in Paris that she craves. Of course, among Balsan’s leisure class, work is a foreign concept in general; in particular, French men consider themselves too “gallant” to “let” their women work. But Coco is as unconcerned with the proprieties as she is horrified by the stifling corsets and poofy “meringue” hats that fashionable ladies wear, along with the feathers and jewels with which rich women bedeck themselves so they won’t look “poor.”

Coco scandalizes and delights Balsan’s friends by altering his clothes into simple, elegant, freestyle outfits for herself; in her soft felt hat, menswear shirts, tailored vests and trousers, she strides among them like a proto-Annie Hall, her palette basic black and white, her silhouette chic and uncluttered. Soon, Balsan’s dear friend and ex-mistress, Emilienne  (Emmanuelle Devos), a popular stage actress, is hiring Coco to design her hats onstage. Then the independent Coco is blindsided by the last thing she expects—to fall in love with Balsan’s crony, Anglo-French businessman Boy Capel (Alessandro Nivola).

The illicit love affair angle is de rigueur in this kind of movie, of course. But the real love story  here is between Coco and her own evolving sense of personal style, which will change the way women wear clothes for the rest of the century. Fontaine is uncannily deft at slipping future influences into the fabric of her film as Coco’s story progresses. The most breathtaking moments are those understated ones when Coco glimpses and begins to process something that will become part of her signature style: the sober black and starched white points of a nun’s headdress at the orphanage, or striped fishermen’s jerseys on the beach at Deauville. (In one swoony shot, Coco stretches out in her crisp black-and-white outfit against a riotous pattern of rusty autumn leaves.) Well-acted, good-looking and stylish, Fontaine’s film is an intriguing portrait of a revolution in the making.

film_coco_avant_chanelCOCO BEFORE CHANEL ★★★

With Audrey Tatou, Benoit Poelvoorde, and Alessandro Nivola. Written by Anne Fontaine and Camille Fontaine. Directed by Anne Fontaine. A Sony Classics release. (PG-13) 105 minutes. In French with English subtitles.

Watch movie trailer >>>

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.

 

Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Best of Santa Cruz Critics' Picks

Best Cute Overload Beau and Theo’s Nap Habit In the fall of 2013, the Shyba family adopted a 7-week-old puppy from the Santa Cruz SPCA. Theo, as he came to be called, had been abandoned as a baby along with his siblings. Upon moving in with the local family, Theo immediately began napping with the family’s son, Beau, who was not quite 2 years old. The rest—as they say—is history.
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 One of my favorite wines is Sauvignon Blanc, and this one made by Martin Ranch is particularly lovely. Bright, crisp and refreshing, it’s perfect to pair with fish and shellfish—and good for picnics as it has an easy screw-cap bottle. There’s nothing worse than setting down your blanket, pulling out your sandwiches—and then realizing you don’t have a corkscrew.

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management