Coco Avant Chanel, An Appreciation-------
First off, I don’t like biopics. So when I went to see an advanced screening of Coco Avant Chanel yesterday (the movie opens in New York and L.A. on September 25), the film already had three strikes against it—the aforementioned dislike of biopics; a firm belief that when movie people tackle fashion, nine times out of ten they get it all wrong; and Karl Lagerfeld’s recent diss on Audrey Tautou, who plays the late, great Coco. For all that, I liked the movie. Filmmaker Anne Fontaine has made a fine film about a young woman discovering her passions, personal and professional, and if you work hard to get away from the mythos of Chanel and treat Coco Avant as a conventional love story, then you, dear reader, will probably like this movie, too. Particularly likable: the conceit that Arthur Capel, the English gent who bedded Chanel and then funded her business, fell for her initially because of her amazing sense of personal style. Here’s to that! And this neat bit of dramaturgy—I expect the truth was rather more complicated—is of a piece with the film’s real respect for the art and craft of fashion. There’s a great sequence at the shore, for example, where we watch inspiration dawn on Coco’s face as she sees fishermen dragging in their nets, and in the next scene, she’s wearing one of their boat-neck, sailor-striped tops. And beyond that, Coco Avant Chanel gives fashion its due as a form of expression, a medium for speaking one’s mind about the layout of the world at present. This is welcome. The problem with Fontaine’s movie, however, is that whenever you take the blinders off and recall that the Coco on-screen is a version of the woman who launched what is arguably the single most important brand in the history of fashion, you can’t help but feel like the woman at its center is a bit small. At no point do you feel yourself in the presence of a radical imagination. And there’s something disappointing about the way the film treats Chanel, the brand, as a secondary love affair—the thing Gabrielle Chanel settled for creating once her grand romance with Capel ended. Maybe that’s how it was; I don’t know. I do know that Coco Avant Chanel has inspired me to get out my credit card: If anyone knows where I can find a pair of white silk, navy-trimmed men’s pajamas like the pair Tautou wears in the film, please let me know.