Coco Before Chanel

Writer/Director Anne Fontaine ("The Girl From Monaco") had signed Audrey Tautou ("Amelie" and "The Da Vinci Code") to this project before she wrote one word of the script for "Coco avant Chanel." That's how convinced she was that Tautou would be the perfect Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel, in her fictionalized take on the formative years that made Coco Chanel the icon of women's fashion, not only in Paris, but globally.

We follow Gabrielle and her sister Adrienne from their trip to the Catholic orphanage where their father left them, to her attempts to make a living as a mediocre cabaret singer and a would-be actress. One of her trademark songs was "Have you seen my dog Coco?" from which she derived her nickname, which stuck with her for the rest of her life.

One her first "sponsors" was a happy-go-lucky scion of a wealthy family, played by French actor BenoƮt Poelvoorde. Although he was inclined to keep her out of sight from his society friends, this was her first taste of elegance and beautiful homes. She likened women's fashions of the day to "meringue" and pitied the wearers for the constrictions of corsets and the constraints of massive hats. To her sponsor's dismay, she persisted in dressing like a boy and her square peg could not be pounded into society's round hole.

We see her meet the love of her life, an Englishman, played by Boston- born Alessandro Nivola ("Grace is Gone"), who had to brush up on his high-school French and learn to ride a horse well enough to pretend to play polo. Yes, this movie is in French with English captions.

When things went bad for Gabrielle, she would fall back on her abilities as a hat maker and as a hard-headed seamstress who could not be talked into strapping women into corsets; she also was a ground-breaking proponent of women riding horses astraddle and wearing trousers.

What would our world be like today without her influence?

My thanks to the JayFlix individual who talked me into getting this DVD from the city library.