Chanel Solitaire Reviews

 

By JANET MASLIN
Published: October 16, 1981, Friday


AT the end of many a long, talky scene in ''Chanel Solitaire,'' the sentimental piano score becomes extremely noticeable. The music isn't anything to get excited about, but it's livelier than the conversation, which has none of the dash one might expect from a movie about the first lady of haute couture.

''The film will have everything women want - men, money, jewelry, castles, caviar, champagne and love, love, love,'' said its producer, Larry Spangler, in an interview given while ''Chanel Solitaire'' was being made. It does have all of that, yet it still lacks the one quality most essential to such an undertaking - glamour. The Coco Chanel of this movie is seldom a woman whose life has the stature of legend. More often than not, she seems an erratic, often charming, largely uncommunicative tomboy with a great talent for making hats.

Marie-France Pisier makes it clear that she might, with the help of a more interesting screenplay, have made this a very memorable and animated characterization. However, the movie confines itself to Chanel's early years, and does its best to rob them of ambition and idiosyncrasy. While piling on the aforementioned love, love, love and all its accouterments, George (''In Praise of Older Women'') Kaczender's film pays little attention to its heroine's unconventional side. She may say things like, ''I'd rather be respected than respectable,'' but her behavior lacks the audacity of her proclamations.

''Chanel Solitaire,'' which opens today at the Gemini Theater, is a long movie that aspires to some historical sweep, as when Chanel's lover Boy Capel arrives at Coco's studio pointing to the day's headlines. ''Seen the papers?'' he asks. ''When do I have time to look at the papers?'' asks Coco, giving him a little peck on the cheek. ''The Archduke of Austria's just been assassinated,'' Capel tells her. Soon we are watching women reading lists of the names of dead and wounded soldiers (this is cheaper to film than men marching off to war), followed by flags and welcome-home music signaling a parade outside Coco's shop (this is easier than staging an actual parade). A grander movie might handle this sort of thing with more conviction, as might an unabashedly chintzy one. ''Chanel Solitaire'' does it halfheartedly, which is worse than not attempting it at all.

Because the movie, for all its reputed $1 million budget for costumes, doesn't offer all that fabulous a fashion show, the pizazz must come from the characters themselves. The most conspicuously flashy figure in the cast is Karen Black's Emilienne D'Alencon, a self-proclaimed hot number, who is heard to say, ''And when I read one of my own poems, even Marcel Proust applauded.''

More appealing and plausible are Timothy Dalton as Capel and Rutger Hauer as Etienne De Balsan, both of them doing highly successful matinee-idol turns. As Chanel's one true love and her debonair mentor, respectively, Mr. Dalton and Mr. Hauer help the movie work at least on the level of a schoolgirl romance. As for Miss Pisier, her principal quality here is spunk, and she certainly has that to spare. Her Coco Chanel is a woman who, when asked by a handsome stranger if she would like to dance, will snap, ''Why?'' She is also a woman of some mystery, but ''Chanel Solitaire'' casts little light on the drive, rebelliousness and originality that constitute her elusive side. Janet Maslin

Love, Love, Love

CHANEL SOLITAIRE, directed by George Kac- zender; screenplay by Julian More, based on a book by Claude Delay; director of photography, Ricardo Aronovich; produced by Larry Span- gler; released by the United Film Distribution Company. At the Gemini 2, Second Avenue and 64th Street. Running time: 120 minutes. This film is rated R.

Chanel . . . . . Marie-France Pisier
Boy Capel . . . . . Timothy Dalton
Etienne De Balsan . . . . . Rutger Hauer
Emilienne D'Alencon . . . . . Karen Black
Adrienne . . . . . Brigitte Fossey
Chanel as a Child . . . . . Leila Frechet

 

Review of Chanel Solitaire



The problem with being a leading man is that, all too often, the parts offered to you are hollow, one-dimensional roles. Just such a role as that was offered to Timothy Dalton in Chanel Solitaire.

Arthur (Boy) Capel, Esquire, is the lover of Gabriel "Coco" Chanel, a young woman (Marie-France Pisier), abandoned by her father at an early age, but who, despite that, rose to some prominence as the "stable boy" of a former cavalry-officer-turned-wealthy-horse-breeder (Rutger Hauer). Coco is, by trade, a hat maker; Boy Capel takes an interest in her "talents," and sees to it she is given apartments in Paris from which to run her business of designing and making hats.

Boy, a wealthy Englishman, who wheels and deals in the international coal market, and whose mistresses "are without number," wines and dines Coco, revealing he, too, is someone who has risen from obscurity, having been born "on the wrong side of the blanket," thus being a bastard. He physically lashes out at a titled Englishmen, only because they are in a posh restaurant, and is tantalisingly threatened by the lord. This incident is, unfortunately, never again mentioned. Despite Boy's denial that he is a "social climber," he is depicted as exactly that for the remainder of the film.

The video box describes the plot thus: "An incredible life of unbridled passion and unlucky love, brought to the screen with unusual honesty and lushness. From nothing, she becomes one of the richest women in the world. But is money enough for Coco Chanel?"

"From nothing," apparently refers to Coco's origins, as her entire climb to "fame," which is hardly captured in the film, seems to have been financed by men. In fact, the main theme of the work seems to be that women will get nowhere unless they are assisted by, financed, or "bought" by men.

Of the three main female characters in the film, the fancy whore (Karen Black) is sustained by the patronage of men; Coco's aunt is introduced to luxury by her fiancee, and Coco, herself, is "kept" by the cavalry officer, then set up in business by him. Though the audience (and apparently Coco, herself) believes she is doing well, Boy announces, completely out of the blue, that she has been granted credit by the bank for her new shop only because he has guaranteed it.

As far as "unbridled passion" goes, there are two "love scenes" in the movie. The first comes with the cavalry officer, who appears to be making love while fully clothed. After several grunts, and a slap on the face, the scene is over, leading one to wonder whether Coco is frigid, if the actress has simply failed to convey the correct emotions, or if the director had difficulty with the reactions of a virgin during her "initiation."

The second "love scene" comes with Boy, but is little more than Dalton and Pisier in bed, he without a shirt. She sure isn't going to get a baby that way.

Being the story of Coco Chanel, everyone else in the film is short-changed when it comes to characterisation. In fact, Boy is in only two scenes without her: one, with the former French Prime Minister, exchanging coal contracts for political support and financing, and one with Hauer, who has just learned Boy has won the lady's affections. Neither scene is long, although the latter is probably one of the better and more emotional of the entire picture. The veiled reference to homosexuality between Boy and the cavalry officer is presumably one component of "unusual honesty," promised by the teaser on the video box.

The other interesting scene with Timothy Dalton comes toward the end of the film, when Boy, having joined the army (World War One is raging, although you'd never know it), comes upon Coco as she reads on the beach. Boy announces his presence by singing her a brief, popular rhyme, and her comment about his appearing ridiculous in the gymkanas and knee socks of the British officer is as true a statement as was ever uttered on celluloid.

Dalton is excellent, however, in this one-dimensional role, supplying his character more life than he probably deserved. He had very little to do, none of which came close to challenging his wealth of acting talents. The biggest laugh in the film arrives after Boy informs Coco he is going to marry a wealthy and influential Englishwoman, rather than her. He is thrown out of her apartment, and, as he leaves the building, she heaves a basketful of coal out the window. Hard cut to Dalton being barely sprinkled with coal dust, while the larger amount of dust, and one-and-one-half pieces of coal fall behind him.

How did the Allies ever win the War with Boy Capel supplying coal dust to the Cause?