This Distracted Globe random header image

A Good Sense of Distaste

September 25th, 2010 · No Comments

The Bechdel Test was named for Allison Bechdel, whose comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For in 1985 measured the female presence in movies by employing three criteria: Are there two or more women in it, with names? Do the women talk to each other? About something other than a man? Far too many mainstream movies flunk this test, but in the month of September, I take a look at ten movies that pass.

Coco Before Chanel (2009)
Directed by Anne Fontaine
Screenplay by Anne Fontaine & Camille Fontaine, based on the book L’Irreguliere by Edmonde Charles-Roux
Produced by Caroline Benjo, Carole Scotta, Philippe Carcassonne, Simon Arnal
110 minutes

Quietly bold and gracefully dazzling, Coco Before Chanel rejects the conventions of the biopic while affirming what most good biopics do: cultural icons are rarely born into genius. In 2006, Caroline Benjo and Carole Scotta approached Anne Fontaine with the idea of making a movie about Coco Chanel. Having yet to try a period film, the director insisted the right actress be attached first and that she could choose which period of Chanel’s life to portray. Once Audrey Tautou agreed to star, Fontaine urged Camille Fontaine to read Edmonde Charles-Roux’s 1974 biography on the enigmatic fashion designer. The sisters wrote a script focusing on Chanel’s youth, with material by Jacques Fieschi and Academy Award winner Christopher Hampton consulting. Warner Bros. France was sold on the script and raised a budget of roughly $23 million.

With a self-assuredness of style that never threatens to overwhelm the substance of the story, Coco Before Chanel explores a time where the only option for a woman born into poverty was to become a courtesan to wealthy men. Instead of embracing the pageantry of being a fashion designer, the complexity of Chanel’s relationships with her male benefactors becomes the central focus. This is handled with a nuance rare in American films, where political correctness run amok usually translates into men being portrayed as some sort of enemy. Collaborating with director of photography Christophe Beaucarne, Fontaine immerses her film in sophistication and mystery, slipping pieces into the puzzle one scene at a time, hinting at how Chanel built the empire she did. Alexandre Desplat (The Ghost Writer) composed a musical score that is as mesmerizing as the film it illustrates.

10-year-old Gabrielle Chanel (Lisa Cohen) and her sister Adrienne (Inès Bessalem) are delivered to a Catholic monastery, where Gabrielle waits every Sunday for a father who never returns. Fifteen years later, Gabrielle (Audrey Tautou) and Adrienne (Marie Gillain) survive as seamstresses by day and cabaret singers by night. While a baron romances her older sister, Gabrielle’s blunt nature manages to attract an admirer in cavalry officer Étienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde), who dubs her “Coco” after the pooch in her trademark musical number. Fired from the cabaret due to her surliness, Coco indulges Balsan’s lust and hopes he can repay her with an audition in Paris. When she fails the tryout and her sister moves to Paris with her lover, Coco shows up at Balsan’s doorstep and survives as his kept woman.

Sporting an androgynous fashion sense all her own, Coco refuses to entertain Balsan’s degenerate society pals, passing time designing hats or costumes for his lady friends, including actress Emilienne d’Alençon (Emmanuelle Devos). Coco becomes smitten with an English business associate of her benefactor’s named Arthur “Boy” Capel (Alessandro Nivola) and receives Balsan’s blessing to spend two days with him at the resort of Deauville, where Coco sees the ocean for the first time. Crushed by the news that Boy is engaged to marry, Coco accepts a loan from her lover that enables her to open her own boutique in Paris. Chanel’s utilitarian designs — highlighted by styles plucked from her immediate environment — comes to revolutionize women’s fashions in the 1920s, but fame and fortune come at a cost.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 34,237 users: 57% for Coco Before Chanel

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 65 for Coco Before Chanel

What do you say?

Tags: Based on book · Coming of age · Dreams and visions · Drunk scene · Prostitute · Unconventional romance

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment