“Coco Before Chanel” (“ Coco Avant Chanel”)
 
            Audrey Tatou stars as a young Gabrielle “ Coco ” Chanel.  Since there is conflicting information about the “real” early years, a confusion apparently contributed to by the legendary seamstress herself, this movie opts for the less confusing early years, arguably at the price of some considerable historical liberties---and some glaring omissions.
            In this French-speaking Belgian film, young Gabrielle is dropped off at the Catholic orphanage by her father as a little girl, along with her sister (she variously tells people that her mother died, her father moved to America , and she was raised by spinster aunts).  The “real” Chanel first learned to sew from the nuns, but the movie makes no mention of their contributions to her early professional development.  The next thing we know, she’s a grown woman singing in a cabaret.  She gets the nickname “Coco” from a pop song she sings with her sister, who’s already met her “Sugar Daddy” Baron, who introduces “ Coco ” to the man who would become her long-time benefactor, Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde).  She moves in with him into his country estate, where she makes the acquaintance of other idle rich, including theater actresses.  Always possessing her own sense of style, as well as an unshakable self-possession, she begins making hats for the overdressed ladies, and the simple elegance of her designs soon makes a splash in the fashion world of those with plenty of time and money. 
            Here, the movie hits its first big narrative bump, as it fails to chronicle how she managed to set up her own successful business in Paris . (Her biography reads that she was able to live in the Paris apartment of her benefactor, but it took a couple of tries to actually establish her own shop.)  The movie then takes another left turn and spends a great amount of time narrating the romance between Chanel and Arthur Capel (Alessandro Nivola, who’s actually from New Jersey), an aspiring English businessman who apparently never had any intention of marrying her, either. 
            At this point the historically-conscious viewer is asking himself, “How in the world can we be talking about young people living in war-ravaged France in the horrific years of 1914-1918 and never even mention what we now know as World War I?”  As if these people truly lived in a world of their own, and had nothing better to do than play drunken games of hide-and-seek in remote country mansions, or spend idle weekends walking by the sea in elegant private resorts?
            The “real” Chanel apparently had much to do with setting the trend of the “flapper” style so popular in the 1920’s, but somehow the movie seems to gloss over that time period, and deliver us directly into the later Chanel’s stylish business-suit attire of the 1950’s.  But wait, what happened to World War II?  The Nazi Occupation?  Surely even the idle rich couldn’t ignore that?
            Well, even the smallest amount of biographical inquiry will reveal that Ms. Chanel was under suspicion as a Nazi collaborator.  Depending on whom to believe, she was trying to arrange for information to be passed to the British, while consorting with the despised Vichy government.  Well, if we’re just trying to tell the story of humble-orphan-makes-a-success-of-herself, we could just leave out all the complicated political stuff.  But wouldn’t it be more intriguing, not to mention more realistic?
            Audrey Tatou seems strangely sad in this film, as if never really getting over her early abandonment, and having no time for, or patience with, the silly lives of those who enabled her to get her start in a fledgling fashion business.  She seems more a tragic figure than an heroic one.  Even the resounding success of her grand finale, the style show, seems only to bring, in the face of thunderous applause, a thin, grudging smile.  The Woman Who Built A Business Empire still looks like an abandoned little waif.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas

” (“ Coco Avant Chanel”)

 
            Audrey Tatou stars as a young Gabrielle “ Coco ” Chanel.  Since there is conflicting information about the “real” early years, a confusion apparently contributed to by the legendary seamstress herself, this movie opts for the less confusing early years, arguably at the price of some considerable historical liberties---and some glaring omissions.
            In this French-speaking Belgian film, young Gabrielle is dropped off at the Catholic orphanage by her father as a little girl, along with her sister (she variously tells people that her mother died, her father moved to America , and she was raised by spinster aunts).  The “real” Chanel first learned to sew from the nuns, but the movie makes no mention of their contributions to her early professional development.  The next thing we know, she’s a grown woman singing in a cabaret.  She gets the nickname “Coco” from a pop song she sings with her sister, who’s already met her “Sugar Daddy” Baron, who introduces “ Coco ” to the man who would become her long-time benefactor, Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde).  She moves in with him into his country estate, where she makes the acquaintance of other idle rich, including theater actresses.  Always possessing her own sense of style, as well as an unshakable self-possession, she begins making hats for the overdressed ladies, and the simple elegance of her designs soon makes a splash in the fashion world of those with plenty of time and money. 
            Here, the movie hits its first big narrative bump, as it fails to chronicle how she managed to set up her own successful business in Paris . (Her biography reads that she was able to live in the Paris apartment of her benefactor, but it took a couple of tries to actually establish her own shop.)  The movie then takes another left turn and spends a great amount of time narrating the romance between Chanel and Arthur Capel (Alessandro Nivola, who’s actually from New Jersey), an aspiring English businessman who apparently never had any intention of marrying her, either. 
            At this point the historically-conscious viewer is asking himself, “How in the world can we be talking about young people living in war-ravaged France in the horrific years of 1914-1918 and never even mention what we now know as World War I?”  As if these people truly lived in a world of their own, and had nothing better to do than play drunken games of hide-and-seek in remote country mansions, or spend idle weekends walking by the sea in elegant private resorts?
            The “real” Chanel apparently had much to do with setting the trend of the “flapper” style so popular in the 1920’s, but somehow the movie seems to gloss over that time period, and deliver us directly into the later Chanel’s stylish business-suit attire of the 1950’s.  But wait, what happened to World War II?  The Nazi Occupation?  Surely even the idle rich couldn’t ignore that?
            Well, even the smallest amount of biographical inquiry will reveal that Ms. Chanel was under suspicion as a Nazi collaborator.  Depending on whom to believe, she was trying to arrange for information to be passed to the British, while consorting with the despised Vichy government.  Well, if we’re just trying to tell the story of humble-orphan-makes-a-success-of-herself, we could just leave out all the complicated political stuff.  But wouldn’t it be more intriguing, not to mention more realistic?
            Audrey Tatou seems strangely sad in this film, as if never really getting over her early abandonment, and having no time for, or patience with, the silly lives of those who enabled her to get her start in a fledgling fashion business.  She seems more a tragic figure than an heroic one.  Even the resounding success of her grand finale, the style show, seems only to bring, in the face of thunderous applause, a thin, grudging smile.  The Woman Who Built A Business Empire still looks like an abandoned little waif.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas