coco not so kosher?

by anzya


I must be a nerd too, as I enjoyed Ghassan Hage’s wonderful lecture at the ACU on Wednesday night on “Victimhood, Narcissism and Morality” much more than the Coco Chanel film I saw the night before. Talk about narcissistic nationalism. Not that I expected the movie to be that revealing.  But I was disappointed with the po-mo Cindarella story of poor little orphan girl whose sappy happy-ever-after ending is not finding a Prince Charming (she does find a sort of Prince Charming though, who won’t marry her but who will lend her a lot of money) but ending up rich and famous  living the high-life in Paris.

What’s more, ending the film at the peak of Chanel’s career means that, worryingly, there is a great deal that is left out of Chanel’s life in the film, particularly her relationship with a Nazi officer during World War Two and her attempt to use the “aryanisation” laws of the Vichy Government to take control of her perfume business from its Jewish owner. As a review of the film in the Guardian a while back pointed out: “French commentators have not protested that the new films stops before the Nazi links of a designer described as ‘indomitably antisemitic’ in Carmen Calill’s recent study on French collaboration. Instead, extensive press coverage has revelled in nostalgia for Chanel’s style.”

It’s not that I think you should go out and boycott Chanel No. 5 (god forbid!) But it is interesting how French post-war nationalism (compared with German nationalism) seems easy for the Jewish community (and the wider community too) to swallow. And that it’s easier, somehow, to forget French State Anti-Semitism of the Vichy Government during World War Two. As well as deporting Jews to Nazi concentration camps, the French Vichy Government enforced its own severe economic, political, and cultural restrictions on French Jews. French Jews were talked about by the government during this time as a foreign, alien “threat” to the French culture and way of life.

So, while I did enjoy the clothes and the accents and the aesthetics of Coco Avant Chanel, I suppose I couldn’t help but be a little disturbed by the film as a whole. If Chanel is an icon of style, elegance and aestheticism and everything quintessentially French, then to portray only half of her life – leaving out the ugly bits – seems to be a metaphor for a wider, willing blindness of a nation to itself.

But don’t let me stop you from seeing the film… I don’t want to be a killjoy. I actually really did enjoy the first half of the film, before it hastened to a really damn obvious ending.

Oh, and we will post about Hage’s talk and the ACU’s Gaza series shortly so stay tuned 😉