Tautou in Coco Before Chanel
by Chad Menville
published September 25, 2009
Coco Before Chanel
now playing in New York and Los Angeles
Upon their initial meeting, there existed no script; yet, after only
five minutes of speaking with actress Audrey Tautou (Amelie, Dirty Pretty Things), director Anne Fontaine (La Fille de
Monaco) was struck by Tautou’s “will, her audacity, the density of her gaze,” and at once saw in her a reincarnation of Chanel. Tautou agreed
to the part. The result is Coco Before Chanel.
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel used to say, “I invented my life because I didn’t like my life.” An orphan, “she built her
destiny… by inventing as she went along,” notes Fontaine. Like Fontaine, Chanel started out as a dancer, singer and actress. As the
ultimate designer of not just her own style but of her life, Chanel created the details of her destiny, even predicting the exact moment of
her death. A self-made person with an irrefutable charisma, Chanel embodied the essence of the French.
The film is much more than a story about fashion. It is about her life
choices that shaped her style and defined her as a person, as well as her talent, pride and fearlessness that shaped the person she was to
become. We see her as a young woman in a relationship with a humorous but crude racehorse owner, Etienne Balsan (Benoit Poelvoorde). Also is her
brief time with Arthur “Boy” Capel (Alessandro Nivola), the love of her life. A heroine embodying many complexities, Chanel was an inventive and
transformative risk-taker. What set her apart was that while others hoped, Coco invented.
Filmed in Paris and Normandy, director of photography Christophe Beaucarne goes for naturalistic effects, and
costume designer Catherine Leterrier (who has worked with such directors as Altman and Demme) had the critically important job of showing
the influences that shaped the Chanel style. Alexandre Desplat (Syriana, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) composed the score,
and the production designer is Olivier Radot. In addition, the production was given the support of the Maison Chanel, who opened their
archives and collections.
Attending a roundtable with Fontaine, Tautou, and Nivola, on the day of the film’s New York premiere, Tautou shared
her thoughts on Chanel. Asked whether, in her own eyes, she is as great a risk taker as her character, she replied, “When you are an
actor you don’t really take risks, but to become an actor you take risks.” And as for how she has come to view Chanel, after those
four months of filming? “She made clothes for herself first; she didn’t want to serve a cause…she created a new way of seduction for
women…created a style that at first seemed more masculine, but in fact was more neutral.”
Because Tautou is aware that she is not everyone’s cup of tea, what she wishes most is for her audience to not be
indifferent. Considering the disarming allure of Tautou’s dark brown eyes being expressive on
the screen, it is nearly impossible to become indifferent to her performances.
chadmenville @ stageandcinema.com
read William Gooch's report of the roundtable discussion with Audrey Tautou
read Kevin Bowen's review of Coco Avant Chanel