Review: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

A fascinating tale of genius? I should Coco

By Jonathan Foreman, August 5, 2010

(15, subtitles)

Beautiful but boring: Mads Mikkelson and Anna Mouglalis make an elegant couple in the tedious biopic

Beautiful but boring: Mads Mikkelson and Anna Mouglalis make an elegant couple in the tedious biopic

The second French film in two years about Coco Chanel has no connection with its predecessor, although Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky begins almost exactly where Coco before Chanel left off, with the couturier about to lose her lover Arthur “Boy” Capel in a car accident. Presumably someone in Paris is already at work on Coco, the Nazi Collaborator.

Coco & Igor is not a patch on the first movie as entertainment, although it is definitely sexier, boasts even more elegant Chanel outfits and has the benefit of Stravinsky’s music, including large chunks of the ballet, The Rite of Spring. The latter makes a terrific, doomy soundtrack but it is not enough to breathe life into the longueurs that become more and more frequent in the second half of the film. A shame, because Coco & Igor begins with an impressive sequence depicting one of the most famous evenings in 20th-century music, the premiere of The Rite of Spring, performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in May 1913.

Chanel was in the crowd that night and the film has her, played by the stunning Anna Mouglalis, witnessing the spectacle with a cool, enigmatic half-smile. She is later introduced to Stravinsky and there is an instant mutual fascination. Almost nothing is said by the two modernist icons, though Stravinsky accepts an offer to move with his family into her villa outside Paris. The house turns out to be gorgeous, a perfect stage for Mouglalis’s Chanel to parade around in slinky evening wear that emphasises her sharp, naked shoulder blades.

Stravinsky is played by the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, an ex-Bond villain with a striking resemblance to the composer as a young man. He says little, brooding impassively while Magoulis’s Chanel smokes and stares insolently. For what feels like hours.

When he and Chanel finally, wordlessly and without even kissing, have energetic sex, their connection seems like the joining of two egos.

She smokes and stares insolently for what seems like hours

It is not clear if director Jan Kounen intended the pair to seem so unlikeable. But it makes it harder to enjoy all the lissome designer coupling. Kounen clearly has a liking for stilted dialogue and long silences, even though such cool restraint is arguably the opposite aesthetic to that championed by Stravinsky’s work. Fortunately there is genuine pleasure to be found in the costumes, the music and, above all, in the stunning art deco of Chanel’s villa.

Last updated: 2:58pm, February 18 2011