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likeable but unconvincing
on 18 September 2011
Audrey Tatou is a tremendously attractive and likeable actress and this film relies heavily on her. It tells the story of the early life of Coco Chanel the fashion designer. For non fashion audiences worth noting that over her life she had close associations with a wide number of rich and powerful men, including Igor Stravinsky. During the second world war she was accused of collaborating with the Nazis, and her work was unpopular in France after the war. At one time she was the richest woman in the world.
The film is consistently attractive to look at, it regularly drops in little explanations for signature pieces of Chanel style, like the origin of the use of jersey or the matelot horizontal stripe. It is also nice to see Benoît Poelvoorde who was the rather matter of fact killer in Man Bites Dog.
I have a few problems with the film.
Firstly the pacing, it is incredibly slow, it pretty much drags from beginning to end, though nice enough to look at. Having said that the overall chronology is a mystery, presumably the odd decade must zip past in there, but it is unclear from the film, for example when was the first world war in relation to any of the action.
Secondly the characters live in a world that we might describe as morally ambiguous, or just plain immoral. Wealthy men pick up mistresses and discard them on a whim. Women with appealing looks are content to play the system for what they can get out of it. However rather than allowing any taint to apply to Coco Chanel she is depicted as a rather innocent soul, inadvertently caught up in such things, rather than a ruthless gold-digger. Initially it is painful to watch the determined Coco being drawn into an affair, but for the director she is like teflon, she is not corrupted, or indeed particularly affected by anything, merely picking up more fashion tips, ideas and contacts.
Finally, Coco was clearly a pragmatic and determined businesswoman, who succeeded through talent and considerable drive. As portrayed by Tatou she was an innocent naif who just happened along and would not say boo to a goose. I don't think that Coco got to be the richest woman in the world by just moping around a bit, getting picked up by the odd man and doing the odd bit of stitching.