Coco before Chanel Anne Fontaine (France 2009) Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 19 Aug 09; ticket price £7.00
frocks and stuff
If German cinema has sold out its soul and sense of history to Hollywood; then in films such as Coco before Chanel (CBC) we can see that French cinema has capitulated completely to the BBC costume drama format where history and life are reduced to a corporate competition to see who has the biggest hoose, the most crinoline and the funniest hats: the Beeb or FR2? These corporate products are characterised by the silent doleful meaningful looks of the principal characters as they gaze upon worlds of which they can never be a part. Which gazings are repeated ad nausiam in shots and scenes until you want to give one or both saps a poke in the eye.
I should never have gone to see this movie but a commitment to keep a random element in my film going led me to a terrible place.
CBC is a cozzi biopic filmed in the best tradition of the genre: nothing real intrudes so as to disturb a succession of set pieces (big hoose parties), meaningful encounters characterised by gnomic banal dialogue or silence and tastefully lit pans of skin, stand-ins for the sex scenes. The narrative is in the manner of that vacant style of page turning which characterises the perusal of expensive coffee table publications. Beginning middle and end have little meaning. It doesn’t matter whether you start at the front or somewhere in the middle. It all looks the same and Anne Fontaine opens out CBC before us in with a unidimensional monotony without pace tension or energy. CBC isn’t a life; it’s a parade of fashionable gestures. A vehicle for Audrey.
Most of the shots are clichés comprising compositions framed for symmetry and tracks that lead nowhere. However there was one shot that I liked in the movie being the only shot that made me connect with something a little below the belt. After a nights hard set-piece partying at Etienne’s bighoose, CBC cuts to early morning and shot of Coco sort of splayed on the ground under a tree; and to me she had the look of a clown. For a moment my imagination fired; I understood something about Coco. She was a clown and a clown hides behind a mask and feigns happiness to disguise sadness or emptiness. With clown you don’t know what’s going on but they are always know they’ll end up in the shit. But the shot turned out to be an anomaly, a blip in the parade of images. Nothing developed out of the shot. Perhaps it was just my imagination. An hallucination on my part born of a desire to find something in the film that made any sense.
Because of course Coco was a haunted character. Haunted by her past which she tried very hard, most of her life, to conceal. Driven perhaps to square off the humiliations and knock backs (both real and imagined) that she experienced from the hands that paid for her creations. The clown knew how to perform and to hide behind the mask. Perhaps the clown also wanted something darker, revenge; was there something of this desire to get her own back that lay behind her arrest as a spy after World War ll and her subsequent release and flight to Switzerland? The film is unable to pose let alone answer any real questions. Time just slips by. World War l, epochs, the page simply turns over to the next picture. the next frock.
Part of the motivation of seeing CBC was that my daughter, 20 years old and interested in fashion said she’d like to see it. When I asked her if she’d enjoyed it she replied it was one of the most boring films she’s ever seen.