Film Review 47: Coco Avant Chanel

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Coco Before Chanel, like its title has stated, is the story of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel before she becomes the iconic fashionista. The film starts in 1895, when young Coco is taken into an orphanage after her mother’s death. Several years later, Coco works as a seamstress by day and entertainer, along with her sister, in a bar by night.

She picks up the nickname “Coco” from a song which she often sings in the bar. There, she also meets and starts an affair with a wealthy French playboy, Étienne Balsan, whom she later moves in with. While living with him, she shows an aptitude for fashion by designing hats for his rich friends. During that time when women wear elaborated costumes to look rich, headstrong Coco defies the norm and stands out in her simple yet elegant garments. Perhaps that is what attracts Arthur “Boy” Capel, a charming Englishman, to her. The two soon fall in love but…  there’s always “but”.

This biopic potrays two sides of Coco Chanel; First being the strong-willed and independent woman. Second, the fragile and vulnerable. The movie emphasises more on the latter. It does not show how her career takes flight or when exactly is the turning point in her career life. Instead, it shows her transformation from a sceptic of love, to a woman in love and to finally, a victim of love.

The thing I like about this biopic is that it shows no matter how strong a woman’s heart is, it is not immune to aches. We know Coco Chanel is an almighty fashion goddess but she is nonetheless just a woman.

However, that is the problem with the film. Audiences, especially Chanel’s fashion followers, will want to see more of how Coco’s fashion emerges. The movie only dabs lightly on it. Coco’s fashion is secondary to her love life. I even get the impression that Coco did fashion because that was the only thing she could do, not out of passion. 

Biopic usually tells of something extraordinary done by an ordinary person. Coco Avant Chanel, on the contrary, tells of something ordinary done by an extraordinary person. Although I have no problem either way(as long as the story is worth telling), I reckon not everyone will agree.

Don’t anticipate too much of an extraordinary story.
I didn’t and that’s probably why I enjoyed it.

Mel says: 7.4/10

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