Coco Channel and Igor Stravinsky

Coco Channel and Igor Stravinsky

(M) Stars Mads Mikkelsen, Anna Mougalis

In Coco Channel and Igor Stravinsky, director Jan Kounencaptures the brief but turbulent affair between two of the 20th century’s most influential figures.
Impressively, the film opens on the infamous night Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) premiered his compositional masterpiece, The Right of Spring, with dire consequences.

Stravinsky’s modernist ballet proves too violent and disjointed for the sophisticated Parisian crowd more accustomed to the likes of Swan Lake. A near riot ensues in what is considered one of greatest scandals of the time.

Amid the chaos, sits Coco Gabriel Chanel (Anna Mouglalis). No stranger to adversity, she alone seems to fully appreciate Stravinsky’s artistic vision.

A chance encounter, several years later, sees Chanel offering Stravinsky and his family, now exiles from their native Russia, a place to stay in her country house.

Overcoming his initial objections, Stravinsky moves his sick wife Catherine (Elena Morozova) and their four children into Chanel’s residence. There Chanel and Stravinsky uncover a kinship, which quickly turns into something more guilt-ridden and sexual; an affair that threatens their happy family dynamic.

Don’t let the title fool you into thinking the film is a biopic. Based on the novel by Chris Greenhalgh, it makes much of what could only be considered a minor footnote in the characters’ full biographies.

Confronting in its approach, the film gives an unflinching account of the affair. Not one tell-tale exchange is glossed over. We watch as Igor struggles with his inner demons, as Coco deliberates on the seduction and, most heartbreakingly of all, as Catherine watches helplessly from the sidelines. Far from glamorising the affair, the film captures the ugliness of infidelity.

At times it’s very hard to identify with either Coco or Igor. Igor’s own assurances of his artistic greatness and Channel’s celebrated trademark sayings seem positively frightful within this family setting.

It’s the ultimate battle of the egos, a battle comically rendered in one scene: as both characters reflect on their careers one night in bed, Igor makes sure to remind Coco, “You’re not an artist, Coco. You’re a shopkeeper.”
Needless to say, things go downhill from there.

Embodied in Stravinsky’s music (and featured beautifully throughout the film) is the struggle to separate tradition from the modern. This can be seen through Coco, a trendsetter who makes a living from breaking the rules — a personal trait which comes under scrutiny in the film.

As Catherine comes to represent tradition and Coco modernity, how do we reconcile the two opposing forces? The film makes no attempt to answer, which will no doubt frustrate some viewers and provide much food for thought to others.

Although dialogue is kept to a minimum, it’s made up for by the intensity of the performances. Kounen delivers a visual and musical feast; however, if you were after a biopic with panache check out Anne Fontaine’s Coco Avant Chanel, which conveniently ends where Coco and Igor picks up.
Kimberly Almarza

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