Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

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CANNES -- At the intersection of art and culture and of style and genius, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky met and loved each other for a few madly passionate seasons before going separate ways to become legends of Western society. Jan Kounen's "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" takes the measure of this affair in a film that is less a dual biopic than a fleeting impression of two 20th century cultural revolutionaries.

Like "Becoming Jane," "The Young Victoria" and "Bright Star," which premiered in Cannes too, "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" (or "Coco & Igor" -- it went by both titles at the festival) is of a current movie fashion to show a thin slice of famous lives to give hints of what lead to a legacy.

The Sony Pictures Classics release looks poised for heavenly scented returns in specialty venues with women moviegoers especially keen to cross those thresholds of beautifully appointed period rooms and all but smell the fragrance of luxury.

Kounen's cameras do enter the chic villa where Coco put up the near penniless Russian composer and his family following the Russian Revolution, her famous Paris fashion house, the lab in Grasse where Chanel No. 5 was created and the Theatre des Champs-Elysees where "The Rite of Spring" bombed so fabulously. The film, written by Chris Greenhalgh from his own novel, is interested in psychology and art only insofar as these will give a viewer a sense of what is was like to be in rooms with these personalities and how the revolutionaries would transform society in the years ahead.

The film is barely able to live up to its brilliant opening sequence, the 1913 debut of Stravinksy's ballet, "The Rite of Spring," commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev. This, of course, caused a near riot when ticket-holders confronted the shock of the new, the first hint of what one now thinks of as modern music and art.

Coco Chanel is in attendance on this most famous of musical debuts, which turns into a near riot between outraged bourgeoisie and the composer's fervent supporters. This re-creation is an awesome piece of cinematic choreography with music, dance (based on the original), frantic activity backstage, on stage, in the pit and in the audience. It's pandemonium with French gendarmes rushing in, a bit of Keystone Kops mixed in with high art and bad behavior.

(This mix of the sublime and the ridiculous was perhaps a precursor to Stravinsky's own much later appearance in Walt Disney's "Fantasia.") The movie then rushes through World War I with well-chosen archival footage to land in 1920 Paris where Diaghilev first introduces Igor to Coco. They eye one another yet move quickly apart, perhaps already aware of how explosive their relationship will become.

Mads Mikkelsen's Igor is a man of refined Russian dignity and brooding artistic temperament. When he plays on the piano, searching for his notes, then scribbles furiously on paper, you sense the exalted, anguished labor of creativity and the force of his conviction.

Anna Mouglalis' Coco is, somewhat in contrast to the actual Coco Chanel, tall with a long neck and patrician face. She has a cool steeliness about her that is equal parts conviction and determination. In her designs and later perfumes, she knows exactly what she wants even as Igor has to search for his music.

At Coco's invitation, Igor, his tubercular wife Catherine (Elena Morozova) and their young children settle into Coco's rented villa in Garches. Here the family can enjoy the luxury of the surroundings while Igor's compositions take on even more passion. Catherine is all too aware of the source of that passion.

The sexually charged affair between the two strong-willed individuals is destined to be, in Cole Porter's words, too hot not to cool down. Egos, art and Igor's family ultimately intrude. The movie makes no plea for the profundity of the affair or its lasting impact on their future lives. One can only speculate.

Stravinsky's immortal music richly abetted by Gabriel Yared's original score and exquisite sets from designer Marie-Helene Sulmoni are a movie unto themselves. The costumes credited to Chattoune & Fab plus several original garments and accessories from the Chanel collection and a Karl Lagerfeld dress designed for the movie make the film a Deco delight.

There are so many guilty pleasures here that it's amazing the film is as good as it is. The passions feel real, the roles are fully inhabited and the art speaks for itself.

Section: Out of competition

Sales: Wild Bunch Production companies: Eurowide Film Production in association with Hexagon Pictures in partnership with Canal+ and TPS Star and Wild Bunch.

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Anna Mouglalis, Elena Morozova, Natacha Lindinger, Grigori Manoukov, Nicholas Vaude, Anatole Taubman.
Director: Jan Kounen.
Screenwriter: Chris Greenhalgh. Adapted by Carlo de Bountiny, Jan Kounen. Based on the novel by: Chris Greenhalgh.
Producers: Claudie Ossard, Chris Bolzli. Director of photography: David Ungaro. Production designer: Marie-Helene Sulmoni. Music: Gabriel Yared. Costume designers: Chattoune & Fab. Editor: Anny Danche. No rating, 118 minutes.
Director: Raya Martin
Screenwriters: Ramon Sarmiento, Raya Martin
Producer: Arleen Cuevas
Executive producers: Antoine Segovia, Christophe Gougeon
Director of photography: Jeanne Lapoirie
Production designer: Digo Ricio
Music: Lutgardo Labad
Editor: Jay Halili
Sales Agent: Memento Films International
77 minutes