Sunday, November 15, 2009

Coco Avant Chanel...a triumph of style and substance

Ok, I freely admit it, I'm a fashion victim. I couldn't wait to see this film about the life of couturier and fashion icon Coco Chanel, made in France with the assistance of the house of Chanel.

An orphan trained to sew by nuns, Chanel was ambitious and talented with her voice and with a needle. However she lived in an era when few women worked: most were kept. Career options: seamstress, mistress, dancer or actress were seen as a last recourse for impoverished or disgraced girls and widows. Marriage was the only respectable occupation outside a convent. Thus, disposition rather than ability ensured success or failure. Acquiescence, beauty and charm were regarded a woman's chief's virtues.

Coco is played to perfection by Audrey Tantou, (Amelie). The film is essentially a character study and Tantou's performance is stunning. Chanel is willfully eccentric, proud, stubborn, bad tempered and forthright to the point of rudeness. Tantou makes a damaged and difficult woman not only compelling but entirely sympathetic.

We meet Chanel in her early 20s, trying to figure out who she is and how she can possibly achieve her ambition of escaping a life of grinding poverty and obscurity and become rich, respected and famous.

Like"Bright Star" "Coco Avant Chanel" attempts to suggest visually, the tropes and incidents that informed the aesthetic of the artist Chanel became. Much of the film is an is an amble seen through Chanel's eyes. Her gaze directs us along the marble halls of a wealthy older man she's sleeping with and takes us through the demi-monde of the actresses and industrialists he entertains on his estate, at the racetrack and at the theatre. It is a beautiful film, shot in a muted palette at a languid pace, portraying the decadence and elitism Chanel rebelled against.

If you're after an action picture's endless plot turns, this is not likely to be your cup of coffee. If you're interested in watching a beautifully drawn portrayal of a brittle and brilliant iconoclast and her time, you're in for a treat.

Chanel was a a throughly modern woman who came of age on the eve of the Great War. She revolutionized not only women's dress but what it was possible for a woman to do in the fashion business. She was the first female couturier with a house that bears her name to this day. She won for herself the respect and freedoms; financial, aesthetic and social that were, at the time, only accorded men.

Ladies, the next time you slide into a black jersey dress you can actually eat dinner in or a two piece skirt suit with a box jacket and knee length skirt you can actually walk in, thank the chain-smoking, irritating and utterly brilliant woman who rose from an orphanage to international renown by replacing corsets, clutter and constraint with sober, elegant fluid clothes for working women.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

LABYRINTH OF THE PLAY begins at Cinematheque tomorrow night

I just wanted to let you know about a collaboration between Winnipeg Cinematheque ( and the Manitoba Association of Playwrights called LABYRINTH OF THE PLAY which opens tomorrow night at the Cinematheque.

In honour of the Manitoba Association of Playwrights Rory Runnels invited members of MAP to select films that influenced their writing. Between now and December 6th, six films will be screened with short introductions by various Manitoba playwrights citing the influence of the selection on their work.

My selection opens this presentation tomorrow. It is Denys Arcand's first English language feature: LOVE AND HUMAN REMAINS based on Brad Fraser's landmark play: UNIDENTIFIED HUMAN REMAINS AND THE TRUE NATURE OF LOVE.

The screening begins at 7:00 pm at ArtSpace, 100 Arthur Street.

On Sunday, November 8th at 1:00 pm at the KING'S HEAD PUB, Winnipeg Film Group presents the firat OPEN SCREEN DOOR a staged public reading of a new, unproduced screenplay by a Manitoba writer. First up is Jonas Chernick's comedy feature, KOSHER SEXY set to go to camera this spring in Winnipeg with Sean Garrity directing. I am one of the organizers of OPEN SCREEN DOOR. These events are popular in Toronto and Vancouver as a way to connect actors, writers, producers, directors and audiences but this is a first for Winnipeg. This city has a great film community and we hope the workshop and the feedback will help us continue to grow our local film industry. Two great film events to check out in Winnipeg this week.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I saw a beautiful film this week, Jane Campion's "Bright Star" a biopic about English romantic poet John Keats' love affair with Fanny Brawne and the writing it inspired. It was as if Campion tried to capture the essence of the beauty and romanticism of Keats' poetry in every frame. The film was stunningly, achingly, stupidly beautiful.

Keats died young and the terrible loss of all he was and he might have become was beautifully realized in the performance of Abbie Cornish. Cornish portrays Fanny Brawne, Keats' muse as a talented, confident, young woman who throws herself into love with Keats. They are a fine pair.

The supporting cast including Paul Schnieder as Keats' somewhat loutish and irresponsible friend Charles Brown are all fine. Campion uses their talents to successfully convey the claustrophobia of of close quarters in the household the Brawnes shared with Keats and Brown and all the troubles that come from too much intimacy.

Fate conspires against Keats and Brawne but beauty remains in their wake.

The rest of the week was taken up with teaching, finishing a play, carving pumpkins and building a better chicken costume.

Hopefully I'll get to PTE next week.