Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Video review: "Coco Before Chanel"

Coco Chanel had as much impact on society as any woman of the 20th century. Her clothing designs were revolutionary, centered on the notions of simplicity and realism. Constricting corsets, huge flower hats and trails of lace and poofery all died off in the wake of her clean, elegant vision.

The movie about her life before becoming famous, "Coco Before Chanel," similarly opts for simplicity, smoothing out any inconvenient ruffles in the icon's history. The result is a film that seems magnetically repulsed by emotionality.

French screen queen Audrey Tautou strikes quite an imposing figure as Chanel, with her dark eyes and penetrating stare as she observes -- and dismisses -- the early 20th century fashions of her day.

The story concentrates mostly on Chanel's two major romances, with French aristocrat playboy Etienne Balsan (Benoît Poelvoorde) and English businessman Arthur "Boy" Capel (Alessandro Nivola).

Each in their own way, her lovers try to control her, or at least channel her talents in ways that suited them. But Coco repeatedly casts off any attempts to bind her in chains -- lovely and golden though they may be.

Extras are identical for both DVD and Blu-ray versions.

There's a 45-minute making-of documentary, featuring a lot of solo interviews with principal cast and crew. I have to say that the French take themselves much more seriously than do American filmmakers, and their ramblings about the importance of this or the significance of that quickly grows pedantic to these ears.

The exception is Poelvoorde, who's funny and engaging. Talking about what he did to prepare for his role, he casually dismisses Method acting. "I don't believe in this Actors Studio stuff. It's for people who have nothing to do," he says.

There is also an 18-minute featurette focusing on Chanel's young life, and 8 minutes of footage from the New York and Los Angeles premieres.

A commentary track by director/co-writer Anne Fontaine, producer Philippe Carcassonne and editor Luc Barnier is pretty slow-going stuff.

Lighten up, Frenchies!

Movie: 2.5 stars
Extras: 2.5 stars

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