“True to its title, ‘Coco Before Chanel’ chronicles the early life of the woman who would become perhaps the single most influential figure in 20th-century fashion,” writes the New York Times’ A.O. Scott. “But the film, directed and co-written by Anne Fontaine, bears less resemblance to a standard-issue biopic (like, say, ‘La Vie en Rose,’ to take a recent French example) than to a novel by Émile Zola or Theodore Dreiser. With a mixture of brutal candor and tender sympathy, it charts the rise of an ambitious, difficult woman, taking note of the obstacles and opportunities offered by her time, place and circumstances.” The film opens in limited release today courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
“Jan Kounen’s moldy ‘Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,’ which premiered earlier this year at Cannes and was also bought by Sony Pictures Classics, picks up essentially where Fontaine’s film ends,” notes Melissa Anderson in the Village Voice. “Both stop well short of the most shameful era of the designer’s life: Coco When She Was Sleeping With the Nazi Spy… Rather than more Coco, before, during, or after Chanel, perhaps the designer’s rival, Elsa Schiaparelli, who collaborated not with the Nazis but Giacometti and Cocteau, and whose life has yet to be told on-screen, would make for a more fascinating biopic.”
“Fittingly, ‘Coco’ presents Chanel herself as a bundle of contradictions: Sensual but stubbornly self-sufficient, she likes the perks of being kept by a rich man and is also desperate to work,” writes Karina Longworth for Time Out New York. “Fontaine hits a few trite beats—personal agony begets a flurry of groundbreaking creative activity, as when Coco responds to heartbreak by designing her signature suit—but Coco herself is a thrillingly atypical, genuinely complicated heroine.”
“Following in the footsteps of the unfortunate Jane Austen biopic ‘Becoming Jane,’ Anne Fontaine’s glossy period piece ‘Coco Before Chanel’ focuses exclusively on the youthful romances of a fascinating, independent woman in the years before her professional success,” writes Michael Koresky in his review for indieWIRE. “Aside from this being a relatively specious, and utterly conventional, approach to hagiography, in each cases it also reduces a real-life woman to a sexist psychological dead end: they become defined only in terms of the men they have loved and lost.”
The LA Times’ Kenneth Turan: “Tautou not only resembles Chanel, she inhabits the role completely, using flashing eyes and a relentless intelligence to convey the unbending strength of a woman determined to make something of her life in a time and place when that was far from the norm.”
“The drab stateliness of ‘Coco Before Chanel’ is in keeping with the un-ornate threads popularized by its subject, fashion mogul Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel,” observes Slant Magazine’s Nick Schager. “Yet if Anne Fontaine’s early-years portrait employs a stripped-down aesthetic in tune with the couturier’s signature garb, her bland, straightforward treatment nonetheless lacks the daring that typified Coco and her style.”
Time Out London has interview with Fontaine.
Watch the trailer for “Coco Before Chanel” on YouTube.