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Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (Review)

Aun Ngo

Wed Apr 14 2010



IT IS generally known that Russian composer Igor Stravinsky and the eponymous Coco Chanel had an affair – one among the allegedly numerous liaisons with influential men that Mademoiselle Chanel had.

As silverscreen adaptations go, Jan Kounen’s Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is a dramatic work of art which elevates that affair into a passionate source of life-long inspiration.

The film opens in Paris, 1913 at the premier of Les Ballets Russes’ performance to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

Nijinsky’s ballet, depicting paganistic fertility rites, is avant garde and bizzare. Bordering on dadaism, and coupled with Stravinsky’s percussive, syncopated score, it is everything the conservative Parisian audience does not expect. A hullabaloo erupts and the disgusted audience storms from the theatre, save Coco (Anna Mouglalis), who wears an enigmatic smile.

This is the first hint of the connection between the two artists, both as uncompromising as the other, and intent on their modernist creations.

The scandal takes a toll on Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen). Seven years later, following the Russian Revolution, he is an impoverished exile in Paris and desperate to find the means to compose. He accepts the offer to move his family into Coco’s villa in Garches, and becomes, in essence, a kept man.

Mouglalis captures the essence of Coco Chanel, embodying the liberated, ambitious woman with her own brand of morals and creative genius with a finesse that is exquisite (brought to life even more with Mouglalis dressed in CHANEL originals).

Her Coco is a steely conundrum of selfish generosity, while Mikkelsen portrays a man torn between loyalty to his childhood sweetheart wife and children, and his obsession with the elegant, intense entrepreneur. The film achingly paints both the helplessness and resolve of Stravinsky’s sickly wife (Elena Morozova) and her growing suspicion of the passionate dalliances between her husband and their benefactor. We are not quite sure who to side with.

The film also presents fictionalised accounts of the making of each of the artists’ “opuses” – the creation of Chanel No. 5 showcases Chanel’s exacting standards, while Stravinsky’s composition of his famed scores is altogether a tormented, dissonant affair.

Jan Kounen’s film is art in motion that will delight fashion lovers. It left me with the desire to overhaul my wardrobe quick smart to chic monochromatic tones, and the haunting refrain that entanglements of art, creativity and passion are anything but black and white.

As for how Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky compares to Anne Fontaine’s Coco avant Chanel starring Audrey Tatou, Kounen’s film functions as a companion piece of sorts, however unintentional. Fontaine’s version focuses on the early days of the couturier and her rise from poverty to the establishment of the iconic design house, while Kounen’s Coco is older, steelier and more established.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky opens in theatres from April 15.

PS – Make sure you stay till the end of the movie after the credits roll, as there is a tableau which functions as a dénouement. CHANEL aficionados may also be interested to note that screenwriter Chris Greenhalgh adapted his novel of the same name for the production. The film was also supported by CHANEL and Karl Lagerfeld, who specially created Stravinsky’s suit and Mouglalis’ embroidered evening dress for the performance of The Rite Of Spring. CHANEL also granted full access to its archives and collections, and Coco Chanel’s apartment at 31, rue Cambon, Paris.