| The formative early years of pioneering French fashion designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel are showcased in this biopic directed by Anne Fontaine. Audrey Tautou ("Amelie" and "A Very Long Engagement") is magnificent in the lead role.
The story begins in 1893 when Gabrielle and her older sister, Adrienne, are abandoned by their father and left to be raised in an orphanage. In her mid-20s, Gabrielle works as a seamstress by day and a saloon singer at night. She sings a song about a cute little dog named Coco. She meets arrogant aristocrat Etienne Balsan (Belgian actor Benoit Poelvoorde) one night at her cabaret show. He prefers to call her Coco and the nickname sticks.
Balsan impresses her with his connections in Paris. After a drunken fling in his hotel room, Coco packs her bags and goes to live with Balsan in his country estate. She learns to ride a horse and becomes Balsan's personal geisha.
She observes the clothing women are wearing. She detests long trains on dresses that make her feel like a walking curtain. She opts for loose-fitting and more comfortable attire that allows a woman breathing room. She never wears a corset, preferring simplicity and menswear-inspired outfits. She gets her start designing hats with no feathers.
Coco enters into a torrid love affair with English businessman Arthur "Boy" Capel (Alessandro Nivola from "Junebug"). Balsan becomes jealous as this romantic triangle becomes the focus of the screenplay. The love scenes are handled in a tasteful manner.
This indie gem is graced with laudatory acting, interesting dialogue, lavish costumes, breathtaking scenery, splendid interior designs and an exceptional musical score by 2009 film composer of the year Alexandre Desplat ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Queen") featuring the London Symphony Orchestra.
Tautou, who ironically is the current spokesmodel for Chanel No. 5, uses to her advantage a petite figure, expressive dark eyes and an elegant aura of sophistication that will remind audiences of Audrey Hepburn. This guilty pleasure costume drama leaves you wanting to know more about this extraordinary woman considered one of the most influential in the 20th century. Let's hope that Fontaine (who co-wrote the script with her sister Camille) can do a follow-up with "After" in the title.
Prior to the closing credits, we are treated to a brief glimpse of Coco's designer label dresses as glamorous models descend a spiral staircase before a haute couture fashion show. The dialogue is in French with easy-to-read English subtitles. Now playing exclusively at the Leawood, AMC Studio 30 and Tivoli.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"