In 1954, Coco Chanel (Shirley MacLaine) unveils her first collection in 15 years. The reception is disastrous. As she struggles to bounce back from the fiasco, she flashes back over her life. The bulk of the film then follows the young Chanel (Barbora Bobulova) and her love affairs, first with a callow playboy (Sagamore Stévenin), then with the Englishman (Olivier Sitruk) who will be the great love of her life. Along the way, we see a little bit of her development as a fashion designer.
If you’re sitting down for a soap opera in period dress, then you could certainly do worse. As silly as it often is, Coco Chanel is consistently entertaining. Its desire to worship its subject does mean for some unfortunate choices, however. Setting aside the fact that there is too little time spent on what made her one of the world’s most famous designers, the film decides to pretend that nothing much happened to her between 1925 and 1954, when the most cursory Wikipeida search reveals all kinds of juicy incident (shacking up with a Nazi officer during occupation, espionage games, post-WWII arrest) that would have made for wonderful storytelling. Oh well. Malcolm McDowell is rather oddly cast as the older Chanel’s confidant, and perhaps the fact that he has nothing much to do is the reason why he can’t seem to get rid of that sneer of contempt, even when he supposed to be genuinely moved. Still, suds and all, its 139 minutes clips by quite efficiently.
The film is a handsome production, and so is the transfer. The colors are very natural (almost surprisingly so, given that a film set in the world of fashion would naturally invite a rather more saturated look than we have here). Flesh tones, too, are realistic. There is no grain or edge enhancement to detract from the viewer’s pleasure. The blacks, too, are very good.
The 5.1 surround mix is solid, but not much more. It avoids egregious faults (there is no distortion, for instance), but it also sidesteps some nice opportunities. Thus, in the opening scene, the crowd has, disappointingly, no surround presence. A much later sequence set in the trenches of the First World War, thankfully, makes no such mistake. If Sitruk’s voice sounds a little odd, that’s because he’s being dubbed.
Behind the Scenes: (4:57) The usual thing, only it’s in Italian with subtitles. A pretty slight feature.
Biopic hounds who are hoping for insight and authenticity will be disappointed. But if they want a popcorn romance, they’ll find this good fun.