Coco Chanel is a name that is synonymous with understated elegance. Her fashions have delighted the runways and her fragrance, Chanel No #5, is equated with class and style. However, the early story of Gabrielle Chanel is far from the upscale boutiques that house her timeless fashions. This film, rumored to be part of a three-part trilogy that will explore Coco’s life, delves into the very beginnings of who Coco was destined to become.
The story opens with Gabrielle (Audrey Tatou), nicknamed “Coco” by her father, performing as part of her nightclub-singing act with her sister, Adrienne (Marie Gillain). They are clearly women with a plan, determined to make their mark-and money. Adrienne is lucky enough to fall into a love affair with a wealthy baron. However, when Adrienne decides to leave the sister act to take her chance at living with her love, hoping that it will eventually lead to marriage—and with it enviable security—Coco is left to take matters into her own hands.
Determined to make her mark into society, she deftly works her way into the home of the fabulously wealthy and influential Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde), an admirer of hers from her nightclub days. Coco does not love Etienne and he views her as a mere toy for his pleasure. But Coco determinedly works her advantage in order to push her way through the ironclad doors of French society that she could not open alone. It is in Balsan’s home that her penchant for classic fashion gives birth through her design of hats and dresses for Etienne’s society friends. However her chance meeting with Arthur “Boy” Chapel (Alessandro Nivola) and their subsequent romance inspires her creative fires as well as Coco begins to emerge as a fashion pioneer, someone destined for legendary greatness.
Audrey Tatou, best known for her role as the ingénue Amelie in Amelie and her part as Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code breathes a sense of luminous hopefulness into her role as the iconic fashion designer, showcasing Chanel’s rumored tenacity, but also allowing us to glimpse her moments of doubt, vulnerability, and veritable humanity. It is her performance and the gorgeous, truly inspiring glimpses of the French countryside that makes Coco Before Chanel a thought-provoking story behind the story. And as viewers, we relish its telling.
Coco Before Chanel is playing exclusively at Boardman’s Art Theatre — hurry, it ends tomorrow!
Shows on Thanksgiving Day at 4:30, 7, and 9:15 p.m.