Movie review: Coco Before Chanel

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

It's easy to appreciate the timeless appeal of Coco Chanel's little black dress. It's harder to understand just how revolutionary her simple, unadorned fashions were at the turn of the century, when corsets and ruffles were du rigueur.

The way Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (Audrey Tautou) lived her life was revolutionary, too. The definition of a self-made woman, she started at the lowest rung of society as an illegitimate orphan and climbed her way up to become a fabulously successful fashion icon.

Along the way, Chanel grasped every opportunity she saw during a time when humble beginnings nearly guaranteed failure. Working as a seamstress and a cabaret singer, she took notice of the flirtations of charming but boorish aristocrat Etienne (Benoit Poelvoorde) and basically installed herself as his mistress.

She started making her mark by designing hats for Etienne's wealthy friends, and eventually struck out on her own with a boutique selling her own designs - with financial backing from love interest Boy (Alessandro Nivola), a friend of Etienne's.

As the title indicates, French filmmaker Anne Fontaine doesn't show much of Chanel's life as a celebrity designer. Instead, it's a quiet, intimate and absorbing story of a no-nonsense woman with an understanding of her place in the world and a deep desire to break out of it.

Plus, is there anyone more enchanting to watch than Tautou? Even looking run-down and tarted-up in her cabaret costume, Tautou manages to radiate easy glamour.

"Coco Before Chanel"

Opens Friday

Grade: B+