As the interviews pile up and you adjust to the artifice, though, Wallace’s genius glimmers. In this “postfeminist” age, self-deprecation and irony and self-proclaimed candor and even feminist sensitivity have become additional weapons in the war on women. Men have evolved: They congratulate themselves on their honesty as a means of deception. What makes them more fascinating than the male predators of Neil LaBute or David Mamet is that they’re barely conscious of the breadth of their lies. They’re lost in a solipsistic hall of mirrors, groping like blind men to account for their own impulses. Unfortunately, Krasinski’s camera gazes on all this impassively. It would take a very great film director to evoke Wallace’s brand of “impassivity,” fueled by a fierce desire to capture even the most infinitesimal twitches of the psyche.
As picturesque period biopics with too many symmetrical compositions go, Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel is surprisingly intimate and nuanced. Its focus is relatively narrow: largely on the period between the arrival of the impoverished Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (Audrey Tautou) at the château of her patron–cum–sugar daddy Étienne Balsan and her departure for Paris to launch the business (and aesthetic) we all know and cherish. The movie’s terrific dramatic hook is that Coco lives as a kept woman while affecting a boyish demeanor and beginning to design clothes that emphasize sleek female self-possession. Tautou isn’t the most profound actress, but she endures humiliation with affecting stoicism and is mouthwateringly cute in modified men’s suits, and Benoît Poelvoorde’s Balsan grows in stature and becomes very touching in his helpless devotion to the woman he once treated as a geisha. Best of all, the movie suggests a connection between fashion and the social order that The September Issue, for all its pleasures, fails even to acknowledge.