Coco before Chanel

Cocobefore Chanel

Itis seldom to get a person with diversified talents in the world likeGabriella Bonheur (Coco Chanel), a French fashion designerspecialized in women’s outfits and the founder of Chanel brand. Oneof the stylists said that fashion passes with time, but the styleremains. Chanel illustrated such a saying by designing a line ofattires that is identified easily. Several pictures and columns havemade her designing career popular in the media. Most women wearChanel to associate their names with the brand and style. In hisarticle Womanin love, artist, or entrepreneur? The edifying, the mystifying lifeof Coco Chanel,Elen Riot says that Chanel was one of the human characters whounderstood what love is and how to treat men who trailed her forlove.

Onthe other hand, Riot portrays Chanel as a creative and innovativewoman in every activity she indulged herself such as performing onstage, coming up with new sewing styles, and ways of creating afriendly atmosphere in associating with different people ranging frompoliticians to foreigners. Finally, Riot describes Chanel as aprovident woman who dedicated herself to her business and took riskslike any other entrepreneur in town. Later in 2009, a film by thetitle Cocobefore Chanelwas produced to reflect the true life of Coco and how she made someimportant events unfold in her lifetime. This essay focuses theextent to which such movie reflects Coco Chanel and compares some ofthe events in the movie with the happenings in her real life.Moreover, the essay discusses the skills used in making thebiographical movies that have been employed in Cocobefore Chanelfilm.

Cocobefore ChanelOverview

Cocobefore Chanelis a French movie that was produced in 2009 by Simon Arnal, PhilippeCarcassonne, Caroline Benjo, and Carole Scotta and directed by AnneFontaine. “It was written by Camille Fontaine and Anne Fontainebasing their plot on Chaneland her Worldby Edmonde Charles” (Foxand Hillary 84)and stars Audrey Tautou, Alessandro Nivola, Emmanuelle Devos, BenoitPoelvoorde, and Marie Gillain as Coco Chanel, Arthur Capel, Emilienne d’Alencon, Etienne Balsan, and Adrienne Chanel respectively.

Reflectionof Coco Chanel Life

Themovie starts by showing two little girls at the back of a hay wagonthat is driven by their father. They travel a long distance throughthe countryside and then arrive at a crowded place. In her real life,“Coco’s mother died when she was 12 years old” (Campbell79),the scene that was not shown in the movie due to the unknown reasons.Perhaps because of the death of Coco’s mother in her real life, herfather decided to take them to where they can get good care and learnhow they should handle themselves.Due to this, the Chapel’s father sends her two brothers to work aslivestock keepers in one of his largest farms in Brive-la-Gaillarde,France. He also sends Chanel and her two sisters to theMaine-et-Loire, the small region in central France, which operates asan orphanage that poses fugal and stark life that demands a strictdiscipline. At the orphanage with crowded people, Chanel’s fatherleaves them there and goes away without looking back.

Commonsand Differences of Chanel’s Early Life in the Movie and Real Life

Inboth cases, Chanel’s father, Albert, sends his four children totheir responsibilities despite their tender ages. However, in thereal life, “Chanel’s two brothers were sent to work as thegardeners while Chanel and her sister were sent to one of theChristian communities of nuns that lived under monastic vows inCorreze, western Parts of France” (Alstonand Kathryn 101).In the real life, Chanel’s mother died of a severe chronic disease,bronchitis. In Coco’s movie life, Chanel’s mother has notmentioned anywhere because the movie starts by showing how Chanel andher sister were taken to an orphanage. Finally, in both cases, Chaneldeserted her family members and started living her life.


Thesecond scene shows the two girls after 15 years where they have grownup and are hustling to make their living. Havinglearned how to sew during her seven years in the orphanage, shesecures a job as a seamstress. When she is not at her sewing job, shetakes her time to sing in a cabaret habitual led by the cavalryofficers. She works together with her sister in the backroom of theshop where she makes clothes during the day and goes out someevenings to several saloons to sing. It is through singing a popularduet called “Coco” that Chanel gets a nickname called Coco. Cocoshares a small room with her sister, Adrienne, and they always dreamof performing their songs at the Alcazar in Paris, France. Throughtheir good performance in the saloons, one night they meet with onewealthy patron by the name Balsan who befriends Coco. She does not gohome with Balsan, but she enjoys talking to him and sharing manythings about her future life. The scene ends with Balsan going backto his estate that is located outside Paris and hopes to see Cocowhenever he comes back.

However,in the real life of Coco, some few events unfolded that are not shownin the movie. For example, as an artist, one day Chanel performed asong at a Café-concert in one of Moulins’ pavilions, which earnedher some cash after entertaining a large crowd of musicians. Throughthis, Chanel acquired the nickname “Coco,” based on the two songsshe identifies as “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qua vu Coco.” Thesewords were French allusion for the kept woman, cocotte.

Asan entertainer, Coco emitted a juvenile allure that mesmerized theyoung habitués of the cabaret. In her real life, she worked hard tobreak into the entertainment industry. Later, she started to work inthe SPA resort located in Vincy. Such a resort had several theatersand concert halls where she hoped to accomplish her mission ofsucceeding as a performer. Coco’s physical charms and charismaimpressed those she works with, but her singing vocal was marginal,which hindered her from attaining her stage career. Hindered to findthe job she aspired for, Coco started working at Grande Grille whereshe was one of the females with the job of distributing curativemineral water to Vincy. However, Vincy’s season ended and Cocoreturned to Maine-et-Loire.

Balsanand Capel

Inhis article Womanin love, artist, or entrepreneur? The edifying, the mystifying lifeof Coco Chanel,Elen Riot “The wealth and leisure of a man allow the cultivation ofa social set between him and his woman” (Elen 57). Thethird scene of the movie shows how Coco is fired from the saloonbecause she refuses to sleep with the customers. Due to this, shesteals two costumes, one for her sister and the other for her, towear them to their audition in the Parisian shows that Balsanpromises them. However, Adrienne refuses to go with Coco claimingthat Balsan wants to marry her, the reason for their moving to Paris.Enraged with fury, Coco advice Adrienne to stop being gullible andtells her that Balsan could not marry her because she is a lowlyworking human. Adrienne declines Coco’s plea and goes away as Cocotoo packs and heads to Paris alone.

Thenext scene shows Coco arriving at Balsan’s estates and Balsan ishappy to see her. She does not want to stay for more than two daysbecause it cannot be Balsan’s good reputation to have her around.Coco promises to hide when Balsan is performing. Depressed by how shefeels about not exposing herself to the audience, she sticks to herpromise of hiding. After the entertainment, Balsan takes Coco to theraces where she notices many women’s attire. Balsan leaves Cocowith the commoners and goes with his friends to watch the race. Inthe lawn, Coco meets with her sister looking lovely. However, hersister is not allowed to talk to any person in the race. Later in theevening after returning to the Balsan’s estate, Coco takes some ofhis shirts and suits and cuts them to make an outfit: a vest, abow-tie, and slacks. Such style is original and no woman had beenseen wearing a slack when riding a horse. Due to this, she getsattention from Balsan’s friends where Balsan allows her to stay andinteract with his pals. This leads to her friendship with one of thefamous women called Emilienne, an actress. Emilienne finally tellsCoco that she cannot make a good actress, the incidence that makesthem part ways.

Inthe next scene, Balsan brings Coco a big dress to wear to his party.Trying to put it, Coco hates and cuts it to create a new dress.However, Balsan does not like it and is not happy with Coco. Thefollowing day, after the party, one of the visitors finishes playingpiano and starts a dialogue with Coco. They talk about the variousbook and create an attraction between themselves. The pianist’sname is Arthur Capel, an English entrepreneur who attended the party.Coco calls him boy and he calls her “elegant” due to her goodattire. She smiles as the scene ends.

Cocoand Capel stick together and during the next party, they sneak intothe vast grounds and kiss. They make love and sleep outside under atree until the next day. She accepts to leave with Capel toDeauville, a town that is located at the seaside. At the town, Cocois intrigued with the women’s clothes, the striped shirts of thelocal fishermen, and jewelry. Their shore-time is romantic and Cocofalls in love with Capel. When they come back from Deauville, Balsantells Capel not to hurt Coco because she is fragile. Capel leavesCoco and Balsan to carry out some business for a few weeks. Inone of her interviews in her true life, as recorded by herbiographer, she said “The two wealthy blokes were outbidding forher hot body’ (Ebert78). Unlike in the movie, in the true life of Coco, Capelfinances her first shops as she starts stabilizing her life. Also inthe interview during her true life, Chanel said “Capel’ssensational style changed her look” (Stalderand Cameron 69).

Inthe next scene, Balsan comes to Coco, tells her that she isbeautiful, and does not want to leave her. It is in this scene thatBalsan admits he wronged her because he was ashamed of her in theparty, and he wants her to be his wife. However, she tells Balsanthat she loves Capel. Balsan heart-breaks her by saying that Capelwants to marry a rich English woman because he has no money. She goesto her room and locks as Balsan comes and starts apologizing forhurting her. Capel comes back and realizes that Coco knows his planand she says they do not need to marry. Coco cries and promises notto marry as she remembers how her father is a terrible liar and hecheated on her mother all the time. AlthoughCapel later marries an English aristocrat, Diana Wyndham, he does notcompletely break up with Chanel.


Byrnealso gives more information about the mystifying life of Coco in hisarticle. Byrnesays in his article “People did not believe that Chanel could be asuccessful businessperson in town” (Byrne60). In her true life, Chanel passed through many challenges, such asher failure to perform on the stage and her love attempt with two menwho ultimately let her down. Although her life in the movie is muchpainful because she also worked in the water company where “She wasmistreated by her boss, her general true life was depicted by themovie that unfolded every event of her life” (McLean78).

Inthe next scene, Coco is seen smoking while designing hats with othergirls. It can be seen that these girls are working for Coco and herbusiness is doing well. One evening, Capel visits Coco with a bagfull of gifts. Coco welcomes him by hugging and kissing as they gointo Coco’s business shop. They spend a romantic night there and inthe morning, Capel suggests to rent a beach house for two months andstay with Coco, who agrees. Capel goes for a two-day trip andpromises to come back and take her to the coast. Later, Coco’ssister brings her the sad news that Capel has died in a car accident.The scene ends with Coco crying and her sister trying to comfort her.However, there is something happened in the real life of Coco that isnot mentioned in the movie. Inthe true life of Coco, “Capel died in a car crash and Chanelcommissioned a roadside memorial at the Capel’s accident scene”(Liu84).

Thenext scene shows how Coco cries for Capel. Due to this, she startssewing various clothes in dismays and grief. She designs new thingsand uses the materials with many colors than her favorite one, black.She uses several colors, such as pink, red, blue, and wool plaids.The next scene shows Coco with entire staff members when she isputting the final pieces on a dress. The scene shows her bigachievement and through the profit she has made, she is able toemploy many people in her shop. In the same scene, women are seenwearing dresses, gowns, suits, and “The entire line of signatureCoco Chanel clothing” (Picardie68). Coco is seen in the backstage smoking and the women go away fromher shop to the show. She does not even smile, just smokes. At theend of the scene, Coco sits on the steps of the fashion gallery asshe receives a standing applause where she looks happy and pleased.She then flashes back to her childhood scenes, her time in theorphanage, her sister, and her good times with Capel. Finally, shesmiles, mulls over what she has experienced, and her ultimateachievement.

Thefinal scene of the movie tells the audience how was an internationalinvestor. It recapitulates her designing for more than 55 years untilshe died in 1971. The scene shows how her company is going on today,designing her suits and dresses with pearl and simple classicmaterials.

BiographicalSkills used in the Movie

Everydirector of a movie has distinctive styles and skills that differfrom other movie directors. Such skills can also “Differ from theauthor’s writing styles and anticipation of the appearance of themovie” (Davis50).In the movie Cocobefore Chanel, AnneFontaine, the director, decided uses applies the skill of characterresemblance that is mostly used in the biographical movies. Theresemblance is the skill that the director uses in choosing theactors who can take almost all features of the real character. Forexample, Audrey Tautou, who takes after the real Chanel regarding theheight, body physique, and her weight to acts as Coco. In thebiographical movie, it is not easy to get someone who can play therole of the protagonist. However, Anne Fontaine employs “Theresemblance skill to successfully come up with the movie characters”(Madsen67).

Anotherbiographical movie skill that has been used is matching of the eventsbetween the actual life of Coco and the Chanel in the movie. It isnot easy for the director and photographers to bring out the actualactivities that take place between the two cases. However, AnneFontaine has used that skill in such a way that every event in theCoco’s biography is the same as the events unfolding in the movie.For example, in the biography, Chanel falls in love with two wealthymen who finally let her down. In the movie, “She also falls in lovewith the same men and their love ends in the same way as it wasstated in the biography (Picardie65).


Cocobefore Chanel isa film that reflects what is happening in the current world. Despiteits basis in the event that took place about 110year ago, it stilldepicts many things that occur in the civilized society. Chanel givesan example of an independent woman who goes through many love,entrepreneurship, and artisan challenges, but she finally conquersthem and becomes a successful woman in the world. One of thedifferences between the Coco in the movie and the real Coco is thatthe movie does not mention about the post-war life and career ofCoco. However, her biography mentions about her life after the WorldWar II in Switzerland, where she continued designing various clothesfor women and underwear for men. Another difference is that the moviedoes not depict the Coco’s collaboration with Nazi, but herbiography states how she involved herself in the revolution byworking with Walter Schellenberg. Two main biographical movie skillshave been used in the Cocobefore Chanel.The first one is the resemblance skill where the director looks for acharacter who almost takes after the true character. The second skillis matching of the events between the true character and the moviecharacter.


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