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 ...
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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
While the film presents the premiere of "The Rite of Spring" as if it took place in the beginning of the program for the evening, in fact it was preceded by another ballet, titled "Les Sylphides". "The Rite of Spring" was second on the program. See more »
The Cinematic Equivalent of an "Adultery in Hampstead" Novel
It is strange how two otherwise unrelated films on the same topic can sometimes suddenly appear within a short time of one another. In 1960, for example, there were two filmed biographies of Oscar Wilde, a writer whose life had never previously been the subject of a film, and in the early seventies two separate studios were, quite by chance, working on disaster movies about skyscrapers on fire. When they discovered the coincidence they decided to join forces and produce the film now known as "The Towering Inferno".
"Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" is another example of the same phenomenon. It was one of two French biopics of the fashion designer Coco Chanel to come out in 2009, the other being "Coco avant Chanel". It deals with the supposed affair between Chanel and the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. (The two were certainly friends, but whether they actually had a sexual liaison is open to question).
The film opens in Paris in 1913 with the notorious first performance of Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring". Although the French have a reputation for being artistically progressive (they did, after all, contribute the word "avant-garde" to the English language), they did not live up to that reputation on this occasion, rioting in protest against what they saw as the work's aggressive modernism. Stravinsky was lucky that his composition was first performed before a Parisian audience, as their reaction caused a "succes de scandale" and helped create his reputation as one of the founding fathers of modern music. Had the premiere taken place in London, the British audience would doubtless have sat through the performance with a stiff upper lip, delivered some polite if uncomprehending applause at the end and then retired to the nearest pub to pontificate on what a crashing bore the whole thing had been and how that Russian fellow whatever-his-name-is was not a patch on our own dear Edward Elgar. The work itself would have been quietly forgotten.
The action then leaps over the First World War to 1920. Chanel's fashion business is flourishing and she is branching out into perfumery. Stravinsky, who despite his artistic radicalism was something of a political conservative, is now an anti-Communist refugee from the Russian Revolution. She invites him to live in her villa outside Paris, along with his wife and children, and the rest of the film traces the development of their alleged affair.
Like that Paris audience in 1913, French film-makers can often belie their country's reputation for bold artistic experimentation. British film critics sometimes assume that "heritage cinema" is something unique to our own conservative, nostalgia-obsessed little island, but greater familiarity with the French cinema would reassure them that our friends across the Channel can be just as nostalgic as we can. "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" is a case in point. (Its director Jan Kounen is Dutch by birth, but most of his work has been done in France). It is a French film of a type with which we are familiar in Britain; a historical romance about the artistic or well-to-do classes, set in a country house complete with a lovingly detailed recreation of the décor and costumes of the period. What might be called Laura Ashley cinema.
Certainly, the opening scenes have plenty of vigour and energy, but then it would be difficult to recreate "The Rite of Spring" without being vigorous and energetic. This initial energy, however, is dissipated as the film progresses, and in the second half it becomes little more than the cinematic equivalent of an "adultery in Hampstead" novel- all done very tastefully, but leisurely, slow-moving and rather dull. A film about love among the artistic bourgeoisie of the 1920s needs to offer something new and exciting if it is not to seem over-familiar, and this one, frankly, has little to offer in that department. 5/10
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