I was sittiing in 'Coco Avant Chanel' thinking what a shit I was for not enjoying it more. It was pretty to look at, the heroine was engaging and I generally am a sucker for historical dramas. Maybe it was the fact that the film so skilfully got round the big problem in Coco Chanel’s past - her Nazi leanings. During World War Two she was a collaborator, shacked up at the Paris Ritz and did a roaring ragtrade with Nazi wives. She had a high ranking Nazi lover. After the war she had to leave France her reputation was so malodorous and live in Switzerland.
Maybe you could see the beginnings of this, in the film, in the way she used the men she met. She was powerless and poor. They were rich and influential. I suppose when politics change and go very bad, you just find an influential male in the heirarchy and keep working. But somehow in my soul I doubt whether the orphanage Chanel was dumped in was as picturesque as in the film. Just as I doubt whether the soft-faced actress really was a good stand in for the hard faced bitch which Chanel appears to be in many photographs.
It fascinated me that, as far as I could see, there was no acknowledgement of a biographical source. This is because a person’s life, once dead, is considered public property. But the best biogrpahy I’ve read on Chanel is Edmonde Charles-Roux’s Chanel (Collins Harvill, 1989). This broke a lot of the information that you see in the film, ie her look came from diverse sources such as the orphanage, sailor’s vests and English riding clothes.
I suppose the point in which I lost all sympathy for the film was when the actress went out to look at Boy Capel’s car which had overturned, killing him. This was a true ‘cinematic moment’ ie having nothing to do with truth but everything to do with evoking a moving moment. That it was absurd, ridiculous and stale as an old bottled fart as an artistic manoeuvre goes without saying. But the crowds loved the film. Yet as I watched the almost entirely female audience wend its way out, I could only imagine the caustic epiteths Chanel herself would have spat out about the way so many of them were oveloaded with ornament, clothes too tight for their bodies. Ironically they had all loved just what she hated - a meringue of a film.