I could watch the delightful Audrey Tautou reorganize her bookshelf and still feel satisfied; because at least then she would be doing something more productive than anything she does here on screen. In this gracefully drowsy biopic of the hugely influential designer, Tautou is rarely tasked with doing anything but staring at the horizon and jutting out her pouty lower lip. Coco before Chanel is so elegant and wispy that it practically disappears in front of our eyes, a handsomely made period piece that simply refuses to get its hands dirty. Allegedly this is the story of the early, formative days of the great fashionista, but it's as if you went to a biopic and a dime store novel broke out.
Tautou stars as Gabrielle Chanel, who was abandoned along with her sister as a child, and forced to scrabble their way through the gutters of turn-of-the-century France. As young ladies they got by warbling in saloons, including a tune called "Coco," though Gabrielle never really mastered the personal graces of a hospitality girl. Somehow her icy charms manage to melt the heart of a wealthy idler (Benoît Poelvoorde) who takes her into both his bed and the halls of his lush country estate. There she rides horses, suffers through picnics and tea parties, and the rigors of being a kept woman, while quietly beginning to pursue her real passion as a seamstress. She also carries on a desultory romance with a dashing young twit with a pencil-thin moustache, though her heart clearly isn't in that either; it hardly matters — all the men in her life are drips, and her glorious future is already firmly in mind. Chanel was a fashion revolutionary, stripping away the women's bustles and feathery frippery for sleek, striking black-and-white compositions, a physical liberation that blazed the path for the spiritual liberation yet to come. That would have made for a fascinating movie, but instead we learn that what really matters about the future artist is who she was sleeping with one summer.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.