Coco Chanel



8-11 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 13


LOS ANGELES -- Throwing truth out the window in favor of fiction, Lifetime's new biopic of haute designer Coco Chanel is a delicious extravagance, a telefilm sometimes rapturous in the way it looks and feels.

Not that there isn't enough truth here, it's just that whatever might have been truly a wart or flaw in Chanel's character (she was said to have a lover who was a Nazi, for one) is beautifully veiled or just plain missing. No matter. This original movie is a delight to watch.    

This is no brief encounter with Coco. With its three-hour running time, it lingers maybe a little too long in some places and not long enough in others. We could have been spared much of the movie's first hour, where we are stuck partying with our heroine at the home of her first lover -- well, her first, at least according to this telepic -- in and about the time of World War I. Said lover takes Coco to his mansion but refuses to marry her. She eventually leaves. But we'd still know who Coco (real name: Gabrielle) was even if we'd had less of the endless dancing, dialogue and drinking.

On the other hand, we could have spent much more time with Shirley MacLaine, who plays Coco later in life -- in 1954, to be exact -- when she makes her glorious comeback after her fashions have fallen out of favor with society for too long a time and she is positioned on the brink of financial and emotional disaster.

Playing the younger Coco, Barboracq Bobulova is convincing as a woman who rises from humble beginnings and finds her own self-worth after much hard work. This actress has great conviction, not to mention a love affair with the camera that keeps our eyes glued to her nonstop. Director Christian Duguay gives his characters lots of freedom to be eccentric as well as determined, and Enrico Medioli makes eccentricity a main ingredient of his script. Coco must be nothing less if she's to succeed as a designer in a French society that is at times nothing less than ruthless. We don't get a great deal of character development, nor do we always get the truth, but with "Coco," there is plenty to see and do. Most importantly, we get at least three minutes with that famous little black dress.

Told in flashback (a form that works well here), "Coco" is more than anything else gorgeous to watch. The sets are smashing, the fashions beautiful, the entire look of the production first-rate. Production designers Francesco Bronzi and Chantal Giuliani, along with art director Pierre Michon, costume designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud and cinematographer Fabrizio Lucci, create a fictional world that brings Coco's life and times to life with great flair. It's hard to leave when it's over.

Lux Vide S.p.A, Pamp Prods. and Alchemy Television Group in association with RAI, France 2 and Lifetime Networks

Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Barbora Bobulova, Malcolm McDowell, Olivier Sitruk, Sagamore Stevenin

Executive producers: Carrie Stein, Matilde Bernabei, Simon Vaughan

Producer: Luca Bernabei. Director: Christian Duguay. Writer: Enrico Medioli