Mads Mikkelsen (Stravinsky) and Anna Mouglalis (Chanel)
in Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, directed by Jan Kounen
R. Taruskin, Stravinsky and
the Russian Traditions
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The two leads are convincing physically and dramatically: the long-lined body of Anna Mouglalis as Coco Chanel and the bespectacled, mustached Mads Mikkelsen as Stravinsky. They have a tangible chemistry between them, including some steamy sex scenes -- if teachers do eventually play the Rite of Spring scene from the DVD in class, be careful when you select the track! The most intense and certainly sympathetic performance, however, comes from Elena Morozova as Stravinsky's wife Katarina. In frail health because of tuberculosis, diagnosed when the Stravinskys lived in Switzerland just before moving to France -- it would later kill both Katarina and their eldest daughter, Ludmilla, and almost kill Stravinsky himself -- she is saddled with the burdens of four young children and the work of correcting and copying her husband's music. Morozova creates a mask of unease on her face as the family settles into Chanel's home, enjoying the luxury of their good fortune at first but soon all too aware that she is losing her husband to their hostess.
The film is beautifully shot, with some unusual angles and lens work (cinematography by David Ungaro), with gorgeous costumes (Chattoune Fab) and overall design to create the world of 1920s Paris (production design by Marie-Hélène Sulmoni). The visual beauty is matched by the music, supervised by Jean-Pierre Arquie, with pieces by Stravinsky interwoven with an original score by Gabriel Yared. The fine performance of the Rite, which percolates through the whole film, its savage rhythms standing in for the atavistic violence of the Chanel-Stravinsky affair, is by the Berlin Philharmonic under Simon Rattle. The only curious flaws are at the very beginning and end of the film: a beautiful but overlong title sequence, dragged out by a computer-rendered series of kaleidoscopic patterns, and the film's coda, a completely unnecessary couple of scenes showing Chanel and Stravinsky at the end of their lives. With both parties moving on to other involvements, the only reason for these scenes, hinting at regrets and life-long passion, was the superfluous desire to show off the aging makeup.
In the Washington area, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky is showing exclusively at Landmark's Bethesda Row.