Coco Before Chanel (Coco Avant Chanel) (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

February 7, 2010 by  

A magnificent biopic of the earlier life of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel before she created the world renown fashion brand and empire.  A wonderful performance by Audrey Tautou and a solid Blu-ray release!

© 2009 Haut et Court, Cine@, Warner Bros. Entertainment France and France 2 Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Coco Before Chanel (Coco avant Chanel)


DURATION: 111 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Widescreen (2:35:1), French (Par) 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Warner Bros./Sony Pictures Classics/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RATED: PG-13 (Sexual Content and Smoking)

RELEASE DATE: February 16, 2010

Directed by Anne Fontaine

Written by Anne Fontaine and Camille Fontaine

Produced by Caroline Benjo, Philippe Carcassonne, Carol Scotta

Music by Alexandre Desplat

Cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne

Casting by Antonia Dauphin

Costume Design by Catherine Leterrier


Audrey Tautou as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

Benoit Poelvoorde as Etienne Balsan

Alessandro Nivola as Arthur “Boy” Capel

Marie Gillain as Adrienne Chanel

Emmanuel Devos as Emilienne d’Alencon

Audrey Tautou (The Da Vinci Code, Amélie) shines in this intriguing portrait of the early life of Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, the orphan who would build a fashion empire and be known universally by her nickname, Coco. She journeys from a mundane seamstress job to boisterous cabarets to the opulent French countryside, possessing little more than her unwavering determination, unique style and visionary talent. Also starring Benoît Poelvoorde (In His Hands) and Alessandro Nivola (Junebug). Featuring lush settings and stunning costume design, Coco Before Chanel is the gripping and dramatic story of an icon who defied convention and defined the modern woman.

Chanel, one of the most famous brands in the world.  Coco Chanel, the French fashion designer who is one of the most important fashion figureheads of the 20th Century.

But before she became the popular fashion designer, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel had her own set of challenges and personal tribulations and that personal life is explored in the 2009 book by Edmonde Charles-Roux and further explored in the biopic “Coco avant Chanel” (Coco Before Chanel) directed by actress/writer Anne Fontaine (“La fille de Monaco”, “Nouvelle chance”, “Nathalie) in collaboration with writer Camille Fontaine (“La grande vie”, “L’oeil de l’autre”).

The film is from Warner Bros. Pictures but is distributed in the US by Sony Pictures Classics and on video by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.  The film has grossed over $43 million worldwide and for a foreign film, made around $6 million in the U.S.  “Coco Before Chanel” also earned a BAFTA Award nominations in four categories including “Best Foreign Film” and “Best Actress in a Leading Role” for Audrey Tautou.

The film stars actress Audrey Tautou (“Amelie”, “The Da Vinci Code”, “Dirty Pretty Things”) as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, a woman who grew up along with her siblings (in the film, focusing on her one sister instead of her two sisters and brothers) in an orphanage because her father had to work to raise the children.    This is where she learned how to become a seamstress.

When she turned 18, she and her sister Adrienne (played by Marie Gillain) moved to Moulins where during the day, Gabrielle would work at a tailoring shop while at night, she and her sister would try to make money as cabaret singers.  During her time as a cabaret singer, this is where she met the very rich Étienne Balsan (played by Benoit Poelvoorde) and both become intimately acquainted during his visits to the cabaret.  And he eventually tries to help her get a better job as a cabaret singer.

When her sister Adrienne becomes engaged to a Baron, she moves out and leaves Gabrielle alone.  Not enjoying her life as a low-paying seamstress, she goes to Paris where her sister resides but also where Balsan lives.  She stays with him at his castle, which was supposed to be a few days but instead stays longer, learning about high society and the clothing that they wear, their lifestyle but at the same time at a price by being Balsan’s woman when he needs her for sex and entertaining guests utilizing her cabaret skills.  He treats her like mistress and has her eat in a different area from where he and his high society counterparts eat and in some ways, it frustrates Gabrielle to see her self in such a position but knows that going back to her old life is not an option.  She needs to make things happen and that is to absorb this life around Balsan and see if it can lead her to a job.

But from learning about the women in high society, she learned about the hats that they wore and designed them.  Not wanting to conform to their fashion style, she kept her fashion (primarily for herself) simple and elegant but yet creating designs that the women became more interested in her work.  But while staying at Balsan’s home, this is where she met Arthur “Boy” Capel (played by Alessandro Nivola), a polo-player who was a friend of Balsan but also helped do some work with the horses which Balsan invested in for racing.  Boy was also a wealthy businessman and cared deeply for Coco because of how she was different from other women he had met.

A man who would not only listen to her but support her ideas and eventually be her first love that would get her grounded and focused on her career as a designer.  But for Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, life was never easy for her in the beginning and “Coco Before Chanel” would show us a side of the fashion designer that many people would not be too familiar with.


“Coco Before Chanel” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  The film looks absolutely stunning on Blu-ray capturing the detail of the early 1900’s from the clothing to the living area of Balsan’s castle and definitely another solid release in terms of picture quality from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

You can see the detail of the woven wool clothing of the garment to the exteriors of the walls and steps of Balsan’s castle.  The leaves on the ground, the grass on the fields, the garment textures…as mentioned the clothing, may it be wool, silk or lace.  A solid presentation when it comes to detail.  As for the colors, the film is not exactly vibrant.  In fact, I believe it was intentional to give the film of Gabrielle’s past life this washed out look.   Possibly in tuned to capturing a look for that era. While Detail is maintained, the color pallet was intentional courtesy of cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne (“Paris”, “The Inner Life of Martin Frost”, Mr. Nobody”).  Blacks are nice and deep and there is also a fine layer of grain throughout the film.


Audio is presented in French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.  Although the film is dialogue driven, there are moments where you can hear the crowd ambiance (Balsan’s parties) to the sounds that are reflected from the natural surroundings of Balsan’s castle.  From horses galloping to the sounds of Boy’s vehicle driving on the roads.  But the film is dialogue driven and dialogue is crystal clear including the musical portions of the film, especially the wonderful soundtrack and musical score by composer Alexandre Desplat (“The Ghost Writer”, “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”, “Julie & Julia”, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”).

Subtitles are in English.


“Coco Before Chanel” comes with the following special features in standard definition (with English and French Stereo and English subtitles):

  • Commentary by Director and Writer Anne Fontaine – In this audio commentary, writer/director Anne Fontaine is joined by producer Philippe Carcassonne and editor Luc Barnier.  The commentary is in French but you do get optional English subtitles.  A very good commentary as the three are quite in-depth in their discussion of the making of the film, certain scenes, editing the film working with Audrey Tautou, the costumes used in the film for accuracy and more.
  • Walking the Red Carpet: From Los Angeles to New York – (7:49) A look at the cast and crew promoting the film in Los Angeles and New York.
  • Coco Before Chanel “La Rentcontre” (The Meeting) – (18:17) The cast and crew talk about Coco Chanel and her influence, especially in the fashion world and also about the woman featured in the film.
  • The Making of Coco Before Chanel – (46:12) A seven part documentary about the making of the film and interviews with cast and crew.  The documentary is broken down in the following chapters: The Project’s Origins, Coco’ Look, An Extraordinry Destiny, Etienne Balsan, Boy Capel, Historical Reconstruction and Anne Fontaine.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:02) The original theatrical trailer for “Coco Before Chanel”.
  • BD-Live Enabled

“Coco Before Chanel” was an intriguing and enjoyable biopic of the popular designer.

I have to admit that I am quite ignorant when it comes to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the woman who created this fashion empire as opposed to knowing the brand and of course the Chanel no. 5 fragrance showcased in my wife’s fashion magazines.  But I did find the story about Chanel’s life to be quite entertaining and the performance by Audrey Tautou (as always) magnificent.

Of course, there is more to the story of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel that is not in this film including her relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky and also what took place during World War II which was very controversial.  But this biopic is more about a woman’s survival and wanting to make the best for herself and doing it her way.   And “Coco Before Chanel”, especially with the release of this film on Blu-ray definitely gives viewers a chance to know the woman behind the famous fashion brand.

I don’t really know how different Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s real life was different in compared to what we seen in the film (or how different the original book is from the film) but it was quite intriguing to see this early portrait of the life of Coco Chanel and how her experiences, eventually became the precursor to the famous fashion empire.

“Coco Before Chanel” is definitely a film for those who are curious about the woman behind the brand and also for Audrey Tautou fans who know the quality of her acting.  Definitely recommended!

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