As the title suggests, this film centres on her early years from her time in a grim orphanage where she learnt to be seamstress, through her attempts at being a professional singer up to the concurrent liaisons in the Edwardian era with the rich French playboy Etienne Balsan and the British industrialist Arthur “Boy” Capel.
While exploiting Balsan and loving Capel, she revolted against the exploitation of women and the restrictive fashions in clothes. She’s played by Audrey Tautou as a wilful, manipulative, increasingly confident woman, her bisexuality part of her independence. We see her develop by trial and error that loose, androgynous, simple elegance that was the keynote of her revolutionary style. We witness the birth of the little black dress and “la mode garçon”, the latter fashioned from borrowings from Balsan’s wardrobe.
Delightful to watch the debauched joir de vive of French aristocratic accepted life, the accepted precedent of the mistress kept hidden but everyone perfectly aware of who that person is and why they are there. The sight that such people have genuine emotion and personal feelings but are trapped in a cycle that keeps them in their place [the times Coco departed Balsan only to return].
I even managed to keep up with the subtitles.