- Movie Rating -

Chanel Solitaire (1981)

| October 20, 1981

Walking into a movie about a great artist, one expects to be taken on a journey through the artistic process.  Recently, I had a problem with Priest of Love, which focused on D.H. Lawrence’s sex life and told us almost nothing about his artistic impulse.  The same problem befalls Chanel Solitaire, which is about the early years of the great designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel but tells us almost nothing about her creative instinct.  Instead, it leans on her problems with dominating men and later her bisexuality, things that have little to nothing to do with what made her famous.

Chanel was a legendary designer whose simple fashions freed women from the corsets and rigid confinement of the 19th century (there’s a subtext there that the movie never acknowledges).  Unfortunately, that’s not really on the screen.  You kind of have to take that information into the film with you because Chanel Solitaire is much more focused on how she did battle with two very similar benefactors/lovers, how they dominated her, griped about her mishandling of her work and of her business and how she tried to move away from them.

Okay, fine, a dramatic arc is needed here.  But this is such a scattershot narrative that even the dominating men seem to be a piffling chapter.  The movie jumps all over the place from one lover to another, then to her bisexuality then to her years during World War I (which immediately ends in the next scene after it begins) and we never get a sense of who she was as an artist.  What made her work special to her?  Why did she create the designs that she did?  What was driving her forward?  We never see the artist at work, and when we do, it is used as the beginning of yet another boring scene of her sexual dalliances.

Chanel is played here in a good performance by the beautiful French actress Marie-France Pisier as a woman determined to go her own way, determined to find a voice that is all her own, but the script (which, naturally, was written by a man) lets her down.  It is more about tabloid stuff then about one of the most important people of the 20th century.  Watching this film and the D.H. Lawrence biography Priest of Love in such close proximity, I am made to wonder if the screenwriters really knew who these people were and what made them tick.  They apparently don’t care, which is too bad because anyone approaching their stories certainly will be.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized