I am velvety-smoothReview is BELOWI am veltely smooth, too
DVD: Coco Chanel (2008)
Film:  Good    
DVD Transfer:  Very Good  
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Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada
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1 (NTSC)

July 14, 2009



Genre: Drama / Biography / TV mini-series  
Famous French designer Coco Chanel recalls her early years as a struggling hat maker, and the two influential men in her life.  



Directed by:

Christian Dugay
Screenplay by: James Carrington, Carla Giulia Casalino, Enrico Medioli, Lea Tafuri
Music by: Andrea Guerra
Produced by: Luca Bernabei, Matilde Bernabei Nicolas Traube

Shirley MacLaine, Malcolm McDowell, Babora Bobulova, Cosimo Fusco, Olivier Sitruk, and Valentina Lodovini.

Film Length: 138 mins
Process/Ratio: 1.78:1
Anamorphic DVD: Yes
Languages:  English Dolby Surround 2.0
Special Features :  

Featurette: Italian "Behind the scenes" (4:58) with English subtitles

Comments :

Whether this 2008 Lifetime production was planned as a strategic pre-emptive strike against Anne Fontaine’s 2009 theatrical retelling of the famous designer’s early years is unknown, but Coco Chanel seems to have been given a wider budgetary berth than the average TV movie, and director Christian Dugay (Screamers, The Art of War) had some gorgeous locations and sets at his disposal.

From a production standpoint, Coco Chanel is very elegant, with Fabrizio Lucci’s creamy cinematography, Andrea Guerra’s luxurious music score, and lovely cinematography, but there are so many weak elements that never really elevate the film beyond a fluffy evening show.

The core problem is the script, which feels like a series of sketched historical episodes assembled in a perfunctory order that may have been chopped into a flashback structure when Shirley MacLaine came into the picture – or perhaps the respective contributions of the four credited writers diluted what could and should’ve been a solid drama with vibrant scenes, verbal wit, and carefully paced moments that try and examine Chanel’s psychology beyond an abandoned girl who hooked up with a playboy (Cosimo Fusco), fell for a wealthy industrialist (Olivier Sitruk), and managed to reassert herself for another twenty years after a long absence from the fashion world.

The film’s anchor points occur during the fifties, just after Chanel’s first show is a bust, and her subsequent recollections of struggling to be an independent businesswoman – memories that are dramatized, and ultimately inspire the older Chanel to take one more crack at giving women clothes that are simple, comfortable, and satisfy women themselves, rather than men’s tastes.

MacLaine received an Emmy Nomination for Best Actress, but her scenes are very brief, and her one true moment of dramatic power is a short café scene with the always reliable Malcolm McDowell as her longtime friend and the company’s financial officer. The dramatic meat is given to Barbora Bobulova as the younger Chanel, and the two men who pulled her out of poverty, offered her love, and ultimately drove her to realize her dreams to dress women.

Most of the performances are strong, but like many international co-productions with a mixed cast, the voice dubbing is absolutely sterile; whatever difficulties the Italian actors (Bobulova, Valentina Lodovini, and Fusco) and French actors (Sitruk) may have had with their English lines were smoothened out in nuanced overdubs that were mixed without any special enhancements; there’s never a doubt the actors recorded most of their lines in a recording booth, which kind of makes it hard to believe the actors when they’re in rainy or windswept environments.

Dugay’s direction is workmanlike and mostly uninspired, and that’s a major problem when beautiful locations are covered in quick cuts, or the actors faces dominate in big close-ups. Perhaps it was a reliance on digital effects to augment period scenes, but there’s no effort to convey the scope of any locations using wide angle lenses, and one suspects Dugay’s flat approach stems from either an impatience with the material, or the practical demands of cramming a lot of backstory into a production edited for a commercial and fixed time slot. Because MacLaine’s scenes were part of the script, it left few moments for the editors to slow down scenes, or the actors to pace their reactions and give major moments needed resonance.

Anchor Bay’s DVD sports a crisp transfer of the teleplay at 1.78:1, although the end credits were composed for 1.33:1 display, making them very tiny and tough to read.

The only extra is a featurette ported over from the Italian release, which is awfully short. Interestingly, the featurette flashes date stamps on extracted scenes, which should’ve been added to the English dub version (if not referenced in a few dialogue bits) to help viewers figure out exactly what time period we’re being shown, so as to place Chanel’s evolution in better context and chronology. (Passage of time in the flashbacks is often done through mild makeup effects, or historical moments like the outbreak and end of WWI.).

Coco Chanel is very much watchable, but it’s a missed opportunity to explore a very complex historical figure.


© 2009 Mark R. Hasan

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