Elegance as Simplicity
Review by Christopher Coleman
If ever I felt under-dressed while viewing a film, it was the night I watched Coco Avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel). While viewing director/ screenwriter, Anne Fontaine's take on the early life of Coco Chanel, I somehow became keenly aware of that fact that I was only wearing shorts and a t-shirt. It somehow just felt so very inappropriate. I came oh so close to puting on a shirt and tie. Instead, I reminded myself that Audrey Tautou's scrutinizing glare wasn't actually piercing back through the screen, rendering me a target of her debilitating gauze or demeaning fashion-judgments. I can safely say that no other movie has ever made me feel quite like that. COCO AVANT CHANEL is sumptuously subtle and slowly mesmerizes the viewer in such a way that by the time the final (and beautifully crafted) shot of the film is reached, one can't help but be fully infatuated with both Chanel and Tautou. In addition to her brilliant selection for lead actress, as well as Christophe Beaucharde as cinematographer, Anne Fontaine smartly hired on one of today's most popular composers, ALEXANDRE DESPLAT. Fontaine's film reflects some of Coco Chanel's own artistic values, including Desplat's contribution. As mentioned, COCO BEFORE CHANEL is subtle, but certainly not boring. It's concise but overflows with style. Elegance masquerading as simplicity is this film's modus operandi.
Bringing on Desplat seems like the most natural of choices for COCO AVANT CHANEL. Being a French-born composer and master of his own musical style of "l'élégance dans la simplicité," what better contemporary composer for the job? I can imagine the allure of providing the musical backdrop for the early life of perhaps contemporary-fashion's most influential person would be just too great to resist; however, with other 2009 titles like: JULIE AND JULIA, CHERI, ET APRES (AFTERWARDS), FANTASTIC MR. FOX, and THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON, once could hardly blame him if he had passed on Ms. Chanel. Covering the ascension of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel from an orphan, to a "kept woman" (of sorts) to the dawning of Chanel's fashion-empire, COCO BEFORE CHANEL offers ALEXANDRE DESPLAT ample emotional range to explore and fill with his, now, unmistakable sound.