Coco seems to have been much more driven than her sister, although both shared the same harsh start in life (abandoned to an orphanage by their father, after the death of their mother). Where Adrienne mainly settles for being a kept woman – marriage always a promise dangled, but never delivered – Coco wants to depend on no-one. She is a mass of contradictions – fiercely independent, yet a rich man’s mistress; a skilled seamstress & hatmaker, yet doesn’t (at first) want to use the talent to make a living; she seems to despise the aristocracy, yet longs to be part of their world – but there’s no genuine insight into her complexities.
All the hallmarks for which the later Chanel was known are there for the initiated to play i-Spy with – the minimalist, slightly mannish silhouette, the smoking, the Breton tops, the bobbed hair. However, while the film shows her going against high society fashion of the time, it might lull the viewer into thinking that she was the only one doing so, which just isn’t the case.
There’s a strong focus on the men who helped her get started in business & in love, including surely the most civilised love triangle ever brought to the screen. Poelvoorde deserves a mention here as he not only directs, but acts very finely too.
Towards the end, the story feels a little rushed. One minute she’s just setting up, the next she’s a hugely successful woman – it would have been interesting to know more about this period of her life (and yes, I am aware the film’s called Coco Before Chanel, thank you). The final sequence which culminates in a mannequin parade of her key styles over the years, may be meant to show how modern & relevant Chanel still is, but it’s a jarring and horrible end to the film.
Visually lush & well-acted throughout.