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Paris 1913. Coco Chanel is infatuated with the rich and handsome Boy Capel, but she is also compelled by her work. Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring is about to be performed. The revolutionary dissonances of Igor's work parallel Coco's radical ideas. She wants to democratize women's fashion; he wants to redefine musical taste. Coco attends the scandalous first performance of The Rite in a chic white dress. The music and ballet are criticized as too modern, too foreign. Coco is moved but Igor is inconsolable. Paris 1920, Coco is newly wealthy and successful but grief-stricken after Boy's death in a car crash. Igor, following the Russian Revolution is now a penniless refugee living in exile in Paris. Coco is introduced to Igor by Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes. The attraction between them is instant and electric. Coco invites Igor along with his wife - now sick with consumption - together with his four children and a menagerie of birds to stay at her new villa, Bel ... Written by
In the opening scene in Chanel's apartment, the year is 1913. The record she is playing is the song, "You Made Me Love You." While the song was written in 1913, the version on her record player is the 1941 big band version by Harry James and Helen Forrest. See more »
To say a film is strikingly subtle may sound somewhat counterintuitive, yet director Jan Kounen's Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky abounds with such precarious artistic contradictions and exploits them with impressive ease. In fact, it seems hardly accidental that Kounen's chosen tone and aesthetic are not far removed from those of Chanel herself: serene, impeccably beautiful, yet with more than a dash of icy aloofness, with a creeping pace and lengthy silent interludes often occupied by nothing more than characters staring with vaguely furrowed brows. Yet in many ways such stillness and silence serve to articulate volumes about the titular characters, the ambiguity of such an approach allowing the viewer to 'fill in the gaps' and piece together the mystery of the characters in the same way they are prompted to envision almost all narrative context.
Kounen's film could hardly be less typical as a biopic in the sense that it eschews any exposition whatsoever, forcing the viewer to independently pursue the cause for Stravinsky's banishment from Russia, Gabrielle Chanel's establishment as an independent fashion designer or the significance of almost every other character in the film a risky touch which ultimately proves beneficial, adding a more interactive element to the narrative and ultimately trimming all extraneous content to instead dwell on the central emotional arc. Apart from an arresting and mesmerizing 15 minute opening performance of Stravinsky's abrasively modern 'Rite of Spring' ballet and the audience's subsequent cataclysmic uproar, Coco & Igor proves aptly titled, its scope boldly remains one of proximity and intimacy throughout. Concentrating on the passionate affair between the two creative icons, their mutual inspiration and the eventual unravelling of both, Kounen leaves exterior concerns such as the mutual cultural significance of both central characters largely left to the audience to supply, apart from precisely placed thematic nuggets (when Chanel, in a dispute with Stravinsky, articulates her having more money and fame than Stravinsky, the composer spits back "You are not an artist Coco you are 'une vendeuse de tissues'" a line whose English translation as 'shopkeep' loses an enormous amount of its acidic contempt).
That said, for a film that skims to the bare essentials of story, Kounen's editing could hardly demonstrate a more contrary knack for distilling. With cameras consistently gliding slowly across empty halls, up winding stairwells or past brooding characters, the film's hypnotic slowness and cloistered atmosphere is executed with a largely elegant flair, but with a pace so sluggish it threatens to become still photography on numerous occasions, such an approach feels undeniably excessive and unnecessarily restrained (the film's ending scenes, in particular, are agonizingly slow). Although Kounen's brilliant use of the staggeringly beautiful and concussively powerful music by Stravinsky helps inspire the film with passion and the few yet extensive sex scenes do breathe some well needed fire and rawness into the film, there does remain a sense of corseted formality throughout which detracts from the film's engagement factor, capturing the stiffness of a traditional biography in lieu of its inundation of facts.
It is a taxing job indeed to retain audience interest through two largely unlikeable, albeit respectable, characters whose emotions are largely glimpsed in traces of the utmost subtlety under grimly stoic exteriors, yet Anna Mougalis and Mads Mikkelsen prove easily up to the task as Chanel and Stravinsky. Both tremendously capable performers manage to convey so much through a frown, a stare, a wintry smile, that even their character development being reduced to vaguely disconnected actions (Stravinsky's starting the day with a grim routine of push-ups and drinking egg yolks, lying in leafy fields or slowing sinking into a bathtub; Chanel's energetically cutting open corsets, imperiously appraising her workers' nails or secretly, contemptuously donating to Stravinky's 'Rite of Spring' "for myself") seems to betray volumes of inner demons. Similarly, Yelena Morozova delivers an equally remarkable performance as Stravinsky's ill, haunted wife Katarina, her silently accusatory presence constantly looming to the forefront and serving as a constant reminder of the off centre moral core of the affair and wounded protagonists.
Mesmerizing, daringly sparse and elegant to a tee, Coco & Igor channels the poise and essence of a Chanel concoction at the cost of lacking somewhat of the innovative fury of a Stravinsky effort. While hardly the most informative in regards to the factual history of either character, Kounen's film proves more telling of the pain and passion of either figure than any factual account could be, ultimately proving a serenely audacious and ambiguously compelling success in the vein of either subject.
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