Coco Before Chanel

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Coco Before Chanel
French theatrical release poster
FrenchCoco avant Chanel
Directed byAnne Fontaine
Written by
  • Anne Fontaine
  • Camille Fontaine
Based onChanel and Her World
by Edmonde Charles-Roux
Produced by
CinematographyChristophe Beaucarne
Edited byLuc Barnier
Music byAlexandre Desplat
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • 6 April 2009 (2009-04-06) (Paris)
  • 22 April 2009 (2009-04-22) (France and Belgium)
Running time
105 minutes
  • France
  • Belgium
  • French
  • English
Budget$22.2 million[1]
Box office$50.8 million[2]

Coco Before Chanel (French: Coco avant Chanel) is a 2009 biographical drama film directed and co-written by Anne Fontaine. The film stars Audrey Tautou and details the early life of French fashion designer Coco Chanel.

The film premiered in Paris on 6 April 2009 and was released in France and Belgium on 22 April 2009. As of 21 December that year, it had grossed $43,832,376 worldwide.[3] The production budget was $23 million.[4]

Instead of releasing Coco Before Chanel in the United States itself, Warner Bros. Pictures let Sony Pictures Classics handle the release there.[5] The film grossed $6 million in the United States.[4][6]

Coco Before Chanel was nominated for four BAFTA Awards, three European Film Awards, six César Awards and the Oscar for Best Costume Design.


The film opens showing Gabrielle Chanel and her sister Adrienne being abandoned by their father at an orphanage in Aubazine. Gabrielle waits every Sunday for their father to visit them, but he never shows up. We learned later from Gabrielle's own reminiscing that her parents' marriage made her mother extremely unhappy, and that the father abandoned the two little girls after their mother's death. It also emerges that shortly after abandoning the two little girls their father left France to try his fortune in America.

Several years down the line, we find a young Gabrielle Chanel working in a provincial bar. She works as a seamstress for the performers by day and as a cabaret singer by night, singing and dancing with Adrienne a song about a little dog named "Coco" that gets lost at the Trocadéro in Paris. Gabrielle and Adrienne resist being confused with the hookers whose services are purchased by the male customers of the bar, but they both get the seductive attentions of two older rich men, a baron for Adrienne, and another aristocrat named Balsan for Gabrielle. "Coco" becomes Gabrielle's nickname. Adrienne becomes the de facto wife of the baron, who however never marries her, due to his family opposition.

Deprived of opportunities and driven by an inner drive to make it at all costs, Gabrielle resolves to leave the provincial city and reach Balsan's country estate. Here she accepts to have a liaison with Balsan, while still trying to assert her independence. She learns to ride horses and this experience gives her the idea of designing trousers for women. She meets actress Emilienne, in the circle of Balsan's friends, and she begins designing hats and dresses for her, as well as for herself. She starts reinventing women's dresses by dropping corsets and excessive decorations and shortening skirts.

Balsan's circle of friends includes a self-made, rich, English businessman, named Arthur Capel, significantly younger than Balsan. Capel courts Gabrielle-Coco until the two fall in love during an escapade at the seaside in Normandy. Balsan is upset at the prospect of losing Coco to a man whom he has himself introduced to her, and he offers to marry Gabrielle to win her back from Capel, but Gabrielle refuses. In revenge, Balsan reveals to Gabrielle that Capel is betrothed to a woman in England. Coco decides to continue the liaison with Capel, but with no more illusions about marriage, declaring that she will never get married.

Capel believes in Coco's talent making hats and dresses and tells her "There's no one else like you". Coco continues developing independently her own new vision of how a modern woman should be dressed, in a style that conveys freedom and self-determination, rather than being a man's toy. When she learns that the bank is lending her money for her new business in Paris only thanks to guarantees offered by Capel, she shows aversion, and she insists to deal with the bank by herself, understanding that her independence and her success will not be for real if she depends on a man. Suddenly, Capel dies in a car accident. Coco is emotionally devastated, but rationally determined to continue asserting herself, her independence, her unique style.

The movie ends showing Coco dressed in one of her hallmark tailleurs, sitting on a stair, and watching a series of beautiful models wearing Coco Chanel's dresses from various decades of fashion making. The movie only shows the beginning of her career, hence the title "Coco avant Chanel," summarizing her future success and ascent in the stardom of fashion only in this final sequence.



Critical response[edit]

Roger Ebert praised the film for its unsentimental approach to Chanel's early years.[7] English critic Philip French found the film handsomely designed, tasteful, and reserved, but rather dull.[8]

Coco Before Chanel has an approval rating of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 136 reviews, and an average rating of 6/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Though it doesn't quite capture the complexity of its subject's life, Coco Avant Chanel remains a fascinating, appropriately lovely tribute".[9] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 65 out of 100, based on 30 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10]


Date of ceremony Award Category Recipients Result
17 October 2009[11][12] World Soundtrack Awards Film Composer of the Year Alexandre Desplat Won
12 December 2009[13] European Film Awards Prix d'Excellence Catherine Leterrier (costume design) Nominated
Best Composer Alexandre Desplat Nominated
People's Choice Award for Best European Film Coco Before Chanel Nominated
21 December 2009[14] St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Language Film Coco Before Chanel Nominated
15 January 2010[15] Critics' Choice Movie Award Best Foreign Language Film Coco Before Chanel Nominated
15 February 2010[16][17] Étoiles D'or du Cinéma Français Best Film Composer Alexandre Desplat Won
20 February 2010[18] Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing in a Feature Foreign Language Film Jean-Claude Laureux
Franck Desmoulins
Anne Gibourg
Sylvain Malbrant
Claire-Anne Largeron
Pascal Chauvin
21 February 2010[19] British Academy Film Awards Best Film Not in the English Language Coco Before Chanel Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Audrey Tautou Nominated
Best Costume Design Catherine Leterrier Nominated
Best Makeup and Hair Thi Thanh Tu Nguyen
Madeleine Cofano
Jane Milon
25 February 2010[20] Costume Designers Guild Awards Excellence in Period Film Catherine Leterrier Nominated
27 February 2010[21] César Awards Best Actress Audrey Tautou Nominated
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Benoît Poelvoorde Nominated
Best Writing – Adaptation Anne Fontaine
Camille Fontaine
Best Photo Christophe Beaucarne Nominated
Best Costumes Catherine Leterrier Won
Best Set Design Olivier Radot Nominated
7 March 2010[22] Academy Awards Best Costume Design Catherine Leterrier Nominated
5 February 2011[23] Magritte Awards Best Supporting Actor Benoît Poelvoorde Nominated


  1. ^ "Coco avant Chanel (Coco Before Chanel) (2009)". JPBox-Office.
  2. ^ "Coco Before Chanel". Box Office Mojo.
  3. ^ "Coco Before Chanel (2009)". The Numbers. Retrieved 30 November 2009.
  4. ^ a b "Coco Before Chanel". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  5. ^ Jaafar, Ali (17 April 2009). "Hollywood biz without borders". Variety.
  6. ^ Tobias, Scott (19 November 2004). "Foreign affairs". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 3 July 2009. Retrieved 20 June 2009.
  7. ^ Roger Ebert (2009). "Coco Before Chanel". Chicago Sun Times.
  8. ^ French, Philip (2 August 2009). "Coco Before Chanel". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 September 2012.
  9. ^ "Coco Before Chanel (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  10. ^ "Coco Before Chanel". Metacritic. Retrieved 2020-04-01.
  11. ^ "World Soundtrack Awards: Awards for 2009". IMDb. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  12. ^ "Awards - Film Composer of the Year: Awards archive - Film Composer of the Year: 2009". Archived from the original on 17 September 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  13. ^ "European Film Awards 2009". Archived from the original on 19 January 2012. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  14. ^ "St. Louis Film Critics: 2009 - St. Louis Film Critics' Awards". Archived from the original on 12 December 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  15. ^ "15th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards (2010) – Best Picture: The Hurt Locker: Best Foreign Language Film". Critics' Choice Movie Awards. Archived from the original on 27 May 2016. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  16. ^ "Etoiles d'Or de la Presse du Cinéma Français 2010 (édition n°11)" (in French). AlloCiné. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  17. ^ "Étoiles d'Or: Awards for 2010". IMDb. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  18. ^ "Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA: Awards for 2010". IMDb. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  19. ^ "BAFTA Awards Search: 2010". Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  20. ^ "Costume Designers Guild Awards: Awards for 2010". IMDb. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  21. ^ "Palmares 2010 - 35th Cesar Award Ceremony". Archived from the original on 18 October 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  22. ^ "Oscars Ceremonies: The 82nd Academy Awards - 2010: Winners & Nominees - Costume Design". Oscars. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  23. ^ "Les Magritte du Cinema – Archives: 2011 - Les Nominés" (in French). Les Magritte du Cinema. Archived from the original on 14 December 2014. Retrieved 9 December 2014.

External links[edit]