By Christa Youngpeter

Two strong and well-rounded female driven films have generated deserved award buzz this season, and both resonate with a vibrato normally unheard of in most lady-centric period pieces. In An Education and Coco Before Chanel, we meet young women thrust into heartbreak and personal devastation that nary a Katherine Heigl character could overcome. Sinewy and gamine, both Carey Mulligan and Audrey Tautou capture the audience with both their coquettish beauty, and then demand attention through their misfortunes and mistreatment in pre and post war Europe while adding a hearty dash of charm along the way.

An Education tells the captivating story in drab-colored 1960’s London of a school girl (Mulligan) swept off her feet by a mysterious, smooth talking businessman (Peter Sarsgaard) leaving in his wake her parents’ not so subtle wish for her to attend Oxford. Mulligan is so at ease as Jenny, her rushed transformation from naïve cellist to school shirking rebel to broken-hearted young woman is both moving and predicable in the best possible way. As both she an the audience put the pieces together as to the true nature of her doting beau, one can’t help but share her crushing disappointment and cheer for her determined resiliency after her dreams slip away after one fateful discovery.

Mulligan, nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, shines as a top-notch student poised for Oxford thanks to her wit and overbearing father (Alfred Molina). On a chance rainy encounter she meets David (Sarsgaard) and the two embark on a whirlwind romance taking sheltered Jenny to Paris while her lover embarks on shady business dealings with his morally questionable best friend Danny (Dominic Cooper) and his ditsy fur-clad girlfriend Helen (Rosamund Pike). As the gilded lies unravel, each character reveals their true nature, leaving Jenny in a shattered fairy tale and possibly some statuettes from the academy.

Across the English Channel, Audrey Tautou tackles perhaps fashion’s most worshiped icon in Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel, chronicling the couturier in her early years as a lonely orphan to her climb through the Paris elite. Tautou, like Mulligan, is utterly cherubic at first glance- soft brown hair, pool-like eyes and captivating smile. Once her character develops, though, a one-dimensional dimpled girl becomes uncontrollably fierce, even unlikable at times.

Director Marie Fontaine is careful not to traipse down the familiar path of laying out a heroine’s journey too early on in the film. Chanel didn’t fall out of the womb stitching couture, obviously, and the director subtly reminds the audience that she evolved into her larger than life self only after years of ladder climbing and shrewd decision-making. Unlike naïve working-class bred Jenny, Coco (ne Gabrielle Chanel) is more hardened to the world and sardonically inclined which adds to the movie’s biting authenticity and inherent watchability. Isn’t it, after all, so strangely rewarding watching a pre-war figure slog her way through society’s trenches to world-wide reverie rather than being born into wealth and privilege?