At the end of the day, “Coco Avant Chanel” doesn’t do justice to one of the world’s most iconic fashion figures. It leaves you wanting to see more of the avant (before) and the après (after) of Chanel’s rise to fame.
As suggested by the title, the film focuses on Coco’s early years, before she hit it big in the global fashion scene. We first meet her as an orphaned girl, with no sight of the glamour and celebrity endorsements that are associated with today’s Chanel brand. The movie then fast-forwards to a twenty-something Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (played by “Amelie’s” Audrey Tautou) who’s involved in a French cabaret act with her sister (Marie Gillain). She dreams of becoming the next theatre starlet of Paris, but that dream slowly slips from her hands.
One older, wealthy man (Etienne Balsan played by Benoît Poelvoorde), promises to try and get her an audition and while she doesn’t make the cut, Gabrielle continues a brief fling with him. She comes off as opportunistic when she arrives at Etienne’s mansion unannounced and stays there as she decides what to do with her life.