COCO AVANT CHANEL

France

Synopsis

A little girl who is sent with her sister to an orphanage in the heart of France, who waits in vain every Sunday for her father to come for her… A cabaret performer with a weak voice who sings to an audience of drunken soldiers… A humble seamstress, who stitches hems at the back of a provincial tailor’s shop… A young, skinny courtesan, to whom protector Etienne Balsan offers a safe haven, amongst the idle and decadent… A woman in love who knows she will never be anyone’s wife, refusing marriage even to Boy Capel, the man who returned her love… A rebel who finds the conventions of her time oppressive, and instead dresses in her lovers’ clothes… This is the story of Gabrielle Chanel, who begins her life as a headstrong orphan, and through an extraordinary journey becomes the legendary couturier who embodied the modern woman and became a timeless symbol of success, freedom and style.

Directors Statement

I was lucky to meet Lilou Marquand, when I was very young; she had been the closest collaborator of Chanel throughout the last part of her life and later wrote a book on their relation entitled Chanel told me. So every day, for a while, I would hear something about this mythical personality. I also carefully read the book by Paul Morand, The Allure of Chanel, one of the authors who knew best how to express the incredible personality of Mademoiselle. It was not so much the fashion as the characteristics of this exceptional woman that interested me. I had been particularly touched by the fact that she was a self-made person. This girl, coming from the heart of the French countryside, poor, uneducated, but endowed with an exceptional personality, was destined to be ahead of her time and of a society where women were the prisoners of alienating behaviours and clothing. The quasi-Balzac style of her path intrigued me in particular. I remember putting up photos of the young Chanel on the walls of my bedroom, but I never thought I would make a whole film on this subject. Many years later, during a conversation on Chanel with Carole Scotta and Caroline Benjo, the producers of Haut et Court, they asked me whether I would be interested in developing a project recounting her path. My interest for the character was then reinvigorated. I asked them to give me time to think about it, pointing out that I felt it would be a mistake to try to take in the entire life of Coco Chanel. I had to think whether it was possible to stick to the first period of her life, the training years, what had happened before Chanel herself understood her dazzling destiny. So I went back and read her biography by Edmonde Charles-Roux “Chanel and Her World: Friends, Fashion, and Fame”. The other imperative condition was to fnd an actress to embody such a character, and not someone who would ape or make a pale imitation of Chanel. I found Chanel personifed in Audrey Tautou. On my first encounter with Audrey, I was struck by her will, her audacity, and the density of her gaze that goes through you. Chanel looked at everything. Her culture was not one of knowledge, but a culture of observation. I had not yet written a single line of the screenplay when I met Audrey, but I knew that if she gave me her trust and if the production agreed to stick to the years of apprenticeship, I could then embark on the adventure of my first period movie.
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Cast & Crew

Directed by: Anne Fontaine

Written by: Anne Fontaine

Produced by: Caroline Benjo, Simon Arnal, Philippe Carcassonne, Carole Scotta

Cinematography: Christophe Beaucarne

Costume Design: Catherine Leterrier

Original Score: Alexandre Desplat

Main Cast: Audrey Tautou (Gabrielle Chanel), Benoît Poelvoorde (Etienne Balsan), Marie Gillain (Adrienne Chanel), Alessandro Nivola (Boy Capel), Emmanuelle Devos (Emilienne)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Composer 2009
  • European Film Academy Prix d'Excellence 2009
  • People's Choice Award 2009
  • EFA Feature Film Selection 2009