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Nicole Kidman's latest Hollywood blockbuster (all 180 seconds of it)


By Charlotte Edwardes
Last Updated: 12:54am GMT 22/11/2004

'It's a film, not an advert," the Chanel publicist says, firmly.

"As he says himself, Baz Luhrmann doesn't do adverts."

 
A scene from the advert
The three-minute advert has been billed as 'a fairy-tale romance'

As she speaks, she presses play on the DVD and Nicole Kidman rushes gazelle-like into frame. She turns to face the camera, her alabaster skin flushed the same colour as her cascading gown, her eyes round with panic.

She is being pursued by paparazzi in a cityscape lined with billboards bearing her image.

As the cameras close in, Kidman ducks into a taxi to escape. "Drive," she orders, breathless and desperate, before turning to notice a sultry Brazilian beside her.

The publicist whispers to me: "It's a fairy-tale romance."

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This is No 5: The Film, a three-minute movie or the world's most expensive advertisement, depending on your stance.

Chanel argues that it is "a creative first. The film to revolutionise advertising."

At £18 million, it is certainly a first in terms of budget. Miss Kidman's £2 million fee alone is equal to the entire cost of the Oscar-nominated 1995 film Trainspotting.

Although shot in five days in Sydney, Australia, No 5: The Film took "many more months to complete".

Its premiere on Channel Four last night was preceded by advertisements - "Chanel invites you to a television premiere this evening at 9.20pm" - and was even included in television listings.

The fuss surrounding the "film" has been such that journalists were forced to sign confidentiality agreements before being allowed into "screenings" at the company's swish Bond Street offices.

"It differs from a traditional advert in many respects," explains the publicist, smoothing the skirt on her immaculate black-and-white outfit. "For a start, there aren't any shots of a bottle of Chanel No 5. The whole project was executed as a film."

Certainly it bears the hallmarks of a Hollywood film. It is beautifully shot on high-gloss celluloid, has costumes designed by Karl Lagerfeld and a score by Debussy.

It reprises the successful partnership of Moulin Rouge!, which Luhrmann directed, but this time Kidman plays the "most beautiful and most famous woman in the world".

As Mark Lawson, the presenter of Radio 4's Front Row, puts it: "You sense that Luhrmann was pushing at an open door when he pitched that to her."

Kidman's character briefly escapes her pitied lot after meeting Rodrigo Santoro, who plays the Bohemian intellectual, in the back of a taxi. In Luhrmann's words, he is "a young Gabriel Garcia Marquez", who lives on the Lower East Side, reads Shakespeare, plays a guitar and types on an old-fashioned Olivetti.

Santoro's character doesn't know who Kidman is (despite the billboards) and she "lies", telling him: "I'm a dancer."

To the strains of Debussy's Clair de Lune, the couple cavort on his rooftop garret, backdropped by an enormous double-C logo.

After four days, her secretary appears as an apparition in their bedroom: "You must return to the all-important event tomorrow," he tells Kidman, in faintly menacing tones. And so she does, emboldened, to face fame anew on life's red carpet. Santoro is left wistful, remembering only "her kiss, her smile, her perfume".

It is a romantic comedy without the comedy.

The film finishes with one minute of rolling credits - citing make-up artists and riggers. It is followed by a 25-minute "making of" documentary, complete with footage of Kidman giggling coquettishly with Lagerfeld during fittings in a London hotel room and Luhrmann pitching what sounds like an entirely separate movie about Coco Chanel at the company headquarters in rue Cambon, Paris.

Contrary to Chanel's argument, by making this film Luhrmann is not fighting the tide of directors crossing from advertising to features, but joining the prestigious ranks of other Hollywood auteurs.

Michael Mann, the director of Heat, teamed up with Benicio Del Toro for Mercedes-Benz in 2002 and Anthony Minghella, the director of The English Patient, directed a television campaign for Guinness. Before them, David Lynch and even Sir Alfred Hitchcock have sullied their art for the adman's penny.

Lesley Ali, the creative director at WCRS advertising agency, believes that by producing such a big-budget advert, Chanel has not gone against the grain but merely upped the ante in what has become a trend in the luxury-goods sector.

"Ultimately, the film, like an advert, reflects what the product is and in that way it can't be called revolutionary," she says. "Any product needs to have its values represented, whether it is a three-minute film or a four-second spiral, it still has a brand value that it wants to project. If Chanel thinks this validates its brand value to the target market, that's great. If everyone did that formula, however, it wouldn't be exclusive, so I don't think it will revolutionise the face of advertising. It's just one way of doing it.

"Obviously a lot of thought has been put into this: they believe this is a high-end product and a really beautiful, glossy film makes sense for that product." It is, she adds, not a departure but thoroughly in keeping with its previous campaigns. "Their last No 5 advert, with Estella Warren playing Little Red Riding Hood, was also a two-minute film."

Another advertising executive argues that Chanel has gone to such lengths out of desperation to reposition No 5: "Its image has slipped. It might be one of the biggest-selling scents in the world, but it's considered to be the scent you buy your mistress in the airport or your grandma for her birthday."

In that way, Chanel has merely revived an age-old policy: making its brand synonymous with Hollywood glamour. The scent, launched in 1921, first scored this coup in 1954 when it was allied with Marilyn Monroe.

She claimed, with outrageous seductiveness, that all she wore to bed were: "A couple of drops of Chanel No 5." Later, Chanel repeated that success with the Catherine Deneuve, Ali MacGraw and Carole Bouquet.

Jenny McCartney, The Sunday Telegraph film critic, argues that turning Kidman and Chanel into one uber-brand serves both parties: "Actors who advertise an everyday product - such as a vacuum cleaner, say - run the risk of having their image dulled by association," she says.

"Kidman has done just the opposite with this campaign: she's been very canny. It is such an unusually long-established, acutely glamorous brand - which in the past has been linked to stars - that it actually lends her lustre by association.

"When Luhrmann's line in the advertisement refers to her as 'the most famous woman in the world', it is surely designed to define and flatter Kidman herself, every bit as much as the character she is playing."

As for its status as a movie, No 5: The Film, has one serious flaw: to squeeze into Britain's tight advertising schedules over Christmas, it has been ruthlessly cut to 30 seconds.

"But it is still a film," the spokesman insists. "It retains the plot of the film, its just an edited version."

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