Coco Avant Chanel: Audrey, You're Killing Me
I just got home from a matinee showing of Coco Avant Chanel, it opened today in Paris. I settled into my comfy seat in the theatre (not anywhere near) full of people on their own, like me, and took off my heavy knee-high boots, undoing all six of the buckles so I could relax.
If you didn't already know, it's a French language film. And not subtitled for showing in France, naturallement. I didn't understand much of the dialogue. All of my elementary school French classes and two attempts at improving my skills in the past six years just didn't prepare me for that most important part of learning another language - hearing it as the native tongued speak it, and thus, understanding it.
Anyway, none of that mattered. The acting was superb and it's a truly gorgeous looking film. As the title suggests it focuses on Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel's life before she became a famous designer - specifically, her relationships with the two significant men in her life at that time. How her influences and future trend-making ideas were shaped was introduced with subtlety - a quick snip with the scissors for a crude refashioning of her performance partner's tightly corsetted costume to allow her to move more freely while dancing, admiring the society ladies' bold black and white outfits and their wearing of two or three long strings of pearls instead of the usual one, the white camellia boutonnière on her date's tuxedo lapel, her enchantment with the boatneck nautical striped shirt worn by um, some guys in the water (crap, I can't remember what they were doing) which she promptly recreated at home, and her act of going into her male friend's wardrobe and cutting up his shirts, vests and trousers for her own daily wear and to help her ride the horses with ease (he was rich, he didn't mind). I've always wondered how such a dramatic transition in dressing occurred - these were women who still wore corsets and heavy petticoats so how were they so quickly convinced to forget it all and in favour of what were deemed men's clothes?
There is a scene where Coco is wearing a man's outfit, tailored to fit, while standing next to some society ladies in bustles and hats with heavy plumage. The first time she appeared in her new look she seemed awkwardly out of place and was subject to some ridicule, but now it was the over-done ladies who were embarrassed, and soon enough the excess undergarments were shed in favour of a natural silhouette, and Coco was only too happy to lend her expertise and award them their freedom.
The film wraps up with a most stunning scene: It's Coco's first show - which took place in the original Rue Cambon boutique - and her models descend the staircase one by one in dresses and suits which could easily pass for current season today (I'm curious how accurate a reproduction this collection is though I think it must be fairly so). It's a breathtakingly shot scene that looks almost ethereal, without dialogue and only the music, the beauty of the girls in their clothes and, if you've seen film footage of Coco Chanel who was known to be stern, you'll recognise Audrey Tautou's performance as the most unnervingly accurate portrayal of the designer I think anyone could pull off. She watches the show seated on the staircase with her legs pulled in, wearing the prototypical tweed suit you see in the header photo, resting against the mirrored walls. She holds in her emotion during the ovation until she's overwhelmed with pride and out it comes, just enough to pull at our heart strings yet remain 'Coco'.
And then something happened to me. Yes, it was a wonderful film and the ending was so lovely and perfect, and some kind of an emotional reaction might be expected. But I started to cry, and I felt like I just needed to wail. Of course I didn't, and the lady who decided to sit right next to me despite 80% of the seats being empty didn't help matters.
I have been living in Paris for the past two months. And I leave tomorrow. And I don't want to. I have completely fallen in love with this city as if it were a person. The film depicted through its landscapes, interiors, and its characters the essence of French life, its people and its history, which is alive today and can be experienced by simply being in the city. It's not just in the buildings with their magnificent architecture and the museums with their masterworks, it's in the air. And I will miss it dearly.
Once I got myself together, I bent down over my knees to put on my boots and laboriously fastened the three buckles up the back of each one, and smiled to myself knowing how silly Coco would think I was for dressing in such a complicated fashion.