Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky


Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky does not find his muse amusing.

(2009) Biographical Drama (Sony Classics) Anna Mouglalis, Mads Mikkelsen, Elena Morozova, Natacha Lindinger, Grigori Manoukov, Radivoje Bukvic, Nicolas Vaude, Anatole Taubman, Eric Desmarestz, Clara Guelblum, Maxime Danielou, Sophie Hasson, Nikita Ponomarenko. Directed by Jan Kounen

 

Sometimes it’s difficult to see historical figures as flesh and blood human beings. We see them as perpetually engrossed in whatever it was that made them famous, be it war, music, fashion, politics, religion or art. Nonetheless, these giants and icons had time to live, love, eat and have relationships, both friendship and the next level up.

Igor Stravinsky (Mikkelsen) went to the 1913 premiere of his latest work, The Rite of Spring brimming with hope. It was to be the piece that established him as not only a great composer, but one who altered music itself. With a ballet choreographed by the great Nijinsky and a debut set in Paris at the Theatre des Champs Elysees. To his horror, the audience reacted not only with boos but with such passionate hate that a riot broke out. Despite the solace offered by his wife Katarina (Morozova), Stravinsky sank into a depression, but the performance was witnessed by young Coco Chanel (Mouglalis), then establishing herself as a leading star in the world of fashion.

Seven years later, Chanel ran into Stravinsky at a party. The great composer had recently fled his native Russia after the revolution and between that and The Great War was virtually penniless, and his wife now suffered from tuberculosis. Still a great admirer of his talent, she invited the composer to her villa Bel Respiro in Garches along with his family so that he could work undisturbed by interruption or need.

Like moths to flames the two great creative minds are drawn to each other, first as mutual admirers and then physically. For the next 18 months they have a torrid affair which they did little to hide from Katarina, who endured the humiliation with the wisdom of a woman who recognizes that her husband’s foolishness was merely temporary. Still, during this time Stravinsky would write some brilliant compositions and Coco along with her collaborator Ernest Breaux would create her iconic scent Chanel No. 5, still the most famous perfume in the world.

The movie is taken from Chris Greenhalgh’s speculative novel of the same name (Greenhalgh also co-wrote the screenplay). The actual affair itself was never made public although confidantes and biographers of both Chanel and Stravinsky have since confirmed that it occurred. Much of what is depicted here between the two of them is extrapolation; how much a muse they were to one another is extremely subject to speculation.

Both Stravinsky and Chanel are both depicted as being not terribly likable. Chanel is a driven, demanding woman who was uncompromising in her vision and in the sense that she knew her place as arguably the most important creator of style in the 20th century; nearly single-handedly she changed the idea of what was feminine and her Little Black Dress remains a mainstay for any woman’s wardrobe to this day.

Stravinsky comes off as aloof, arrogant and self-promoting. He, like Chanel, was perfectly aware of the musical revolution he was creating and was, like Chanel, driven to be the one to lead that revolution. Both of them seemed outwardly perfect for one another, although with egos that almost guaranteed that once the passion ran its course there was no way they could continue any sort of relationship.

Mikkelsen certainly resembles Stravinsky facially with his angular bone structure and heavy-lidded eyes. The composer is rarely given opportunity to show any emotion except to his wife and mistress. He had children but is rarely shown displaying any fatherly emotions. It’s not what I’d call a gripping performance, although Mikkelsen is certainly a capable actor; I’d describe it more as restrained.

Mouglalis is certainly beautiful as Chanel herself was; I’m not sure she truly captures the force of personality that Chanel possessed but she certainly tries; in defense of Mouglalis I’m not sure anyone could as Coco Chanel was by all accounts an extraordinary woman who simply dominated every room she ever entered. She was as much a force of nature as a human being and Mouglalis gives some indication of that aspect of her. When it comes to displaying her more human side, well, it doesn’t quite necessarily work.

The character who engenders the most sympathy is Katarina and Morozova nearly steals the show. While she is being cuckolded, she is certainly no fool and is perfectly aware of what’s happening around her. She alone understands Stravinsky’s music and his needs for acceptance and adoration; even though mostly bedridden due to her affliction, she spends an enormous amount of time transcribing the composer’s work. She is strong, never self-pitying and is enormously protective not only of her children, but also of her husband in subtle ways. It’s a wonderful performance and Morozova may well be an actress to watch out for.

The filmmakers do a fantastic job of not only recreating the disastrous premiere of The Rite of Spring (based on meticulous research) but also of creating Bel Respiro, which no longer exists and for which few images remain. The set design is sumptuous and certainly indicative of its time, the beginnings of Art Deco. Many of Chanel’s designs are used in the women’s costumes and this is as good-looking a production as you’re likely to see.

What I would have liked to have seen more of however is the hearts of the two icons. This is almost an intellectual exercise as we are shown how the two influenced one another. We see precious little of the souls of the artists other than what can be gleaned from their works, which might be the truest insights to their souls in any case. For a tale of a passionate affair, there is surprisingly little passion (although the sex scenes are somewhat heated, they are oddly un-sexy). I suppose that this isn’t really a love story, but still – I needed to have my feelings stimulated as well as my intellect and that just didn’t happen here. Be that as it may, this is still a worthwhile film to watch although those who think PBS is too highbrow may not agree.

WHY RENT THIS: A meticulous recreation of the infamous 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring. Sumptuous set design.  Fine performances by leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Overly cool and emotionless. Appeals more to the head than the heart. Neither Chanel nor Stravinsky are easy to like.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of sensuality, including some fairly graphic sex and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Anna Mouglalis appeared in several Chanel ads before being cast as Coco. Chanel (and their then-chief designer Karl Lagerfeld) gave the filmmakers unprecedented access to their archives and Chanel’s apartment in Paris.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $5.8M on an unreported production budget; sounds like a likely box office profit was made.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Coco Before Chanel

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: First Position

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Four-Warned: June 2010


Jonah Hex

Every month I’m going to look at every movie on the release schedule and try to assign them a numerical value corresponding to how anxious I am to see it. The lower the number, the more I want to see it. A one means I would walk through hell and high water to see it; a four means there’s no interest whatsoever. The numbers are not arrived at scientifically but they aren’t arbitrary either.

The numbers aren’t a reflection of the artistic merit of any of these films, but merely a reflection of my willingness to go to a movie theater and see it. The top four scores will be gathered as a means of reflecting the movies I’m anticipating the most; you may use that as a guide or not.

Each entry is broken down as follows:

NAME OF FILM (Studio) Genre A brief description of the plot. Release plans: Wide = Everywhere, Limited = In selected markets. RATING A brief explanation

Keep in mind that release dates are extremely subject to change, even at this late date.

FOUR TO SEE

1. JONAH HEX (1.1)
2. TOY STORY 3 (1.3)
3. KNIGHT AND DAY (1.6)
4. GROWN UPS (2.1)

FOUR TO SEEK OUT (FILMS NOT IN WIDE RELEASE)

1. WINTER’S BONE (1.0)
2. ONDINE (2.2)
3. COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (2.4)
TIE. THE KILLER INSIDE ME (2.4)

RATING SYSTEM: 1) Must-see, 2) Should-see, 3) Perhaps-see, 4) Don’t-see

JUNE 4, 2010

CROPSEY (Cinema Purgatorio) Genre: Documentary. A journalist delves into what had been an urban legend about a child murderer that turns out to be frighteningly close to the truth. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.9 Sounds fascinating, but definitely a New York story.
GET HIM TO THE GREEK (Universal) Genre: Comedy. A record label fluky tries to get a rock star from England to a concert at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.1 Aldous Snow was great in Forgetting Sarah Marshall but do I want to see a movie all about him?
KILLERS (Lionsgate) Genre: Action Comedy. A woman discovers that her new husband is actually a trained assassin. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.4 Sort of like Mr. and Mrs. Smith without the Mrs. Smith.
MARMADUKE (20th Century Fox) Genre: Family Comedy. A Great Dane discovers that the world is what you make of it, even if you’re just too big. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.8 The trailer for this actually talked me out of wanting to see this.
ONDINE (Magnolia) Genre: Romantic Fantasy. An Irish fisherman picks up what he believes to be a mermaid in his nets. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.2 A little Irish never hurt anybody.
SPLICE (Warner Brothers) Genre: Sci-Fi Horror. A pair of gene splicers fuse the DNA of humans with animals with horrific results. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.3 The new trailer reminded me of Species and not in a bad way.

JUNE 11, 2010

THE A-TEAM (20th Century Fox) Genre: Action. A Special Forces team wrongly accused breaks out of military prison and becomes do-gooders for hire. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.8 I’m wondering if this concept hasn’t been done to death by now.
COCO CHANEL AND IGOR STRAVINSKY (Sony Classics) Genre: Romantic Drama. A French fashion designer and Russian composer undertake a torrid love affair, Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Gorgeous music, wonderful fashions and a scandalous affair – what more could you want?
JOAN RIVERS – A PIECE OF WORK (IFC) Genre: Documentary. The legendary comedienne undergoes trials and tribulations as she fights to keep her place in the entertainment hierarchy. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 4.0 I simply am not a fan of Ms. Rivers, so a documentary on her holds no interest for me whatsoever.
THE KARATE KID (Columbia) Genre: Family Action. A young American boy living in China is taken under the wing of a handyman who teaches him Kung Fu – and about life. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 3.4 Was this a movie that really needed to be remade?
KINGS OF THE EVENING (Indican) Genre: Urban Drama. During the Great Depression, men compete in an underground contest for a title and five dollars. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.5 Don’t know enough about this movie to get excited about it.
MADMOISELLE CHAMBON (Lorber) Genre: Romance. An unlikely relationship blossoms between a shy elementary school teacher and a gruff contractor. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 2.4 Nobody does great romance movies like the French.
ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE UNDEAD (Indican) Genre: Horror Comedy. The star of an off-Broadway adaptation of Hamlet is really a vampire. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.9 Shakespeare, Vampires and the Holy Grail. Throw in Broadway and you’ve got a deal!
WINTER’S BONE (Roadside Attractions) Genre: Indie Drama. A bleak look at Appalachian meth cookers and a young woman’s fight to keep her land. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 1.0 The best movie I’ve seen this year.

JUNE 18, 2010

8: THE MORMON’S PROPOSITION (Red Flag) Genre: Documentary. An examination of how the Mormon Church has been intimately involved with anti-gay legislation, particularly California’s notorious Proposition 8. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 I’m sure that this will make for fascinating viewing, but are the Mormons the only religious organization that battled gay rights legislation?
CYRUS (Fox Searchlight) Genre: Indie Comedy. A single mom’s new boyfriend has to contend with her slacker adult son. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 John C. Reilly vs. Jonah Hill for the heart of Marisa Tomei? Sounds like a winner to me!
I AM LOVE (Magnolia) Genre: Indie Drama. A wealthy Milanese family is shaken to its corner when the wife of the patriarch has an affair with her son’s partner. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.5 Yes it sounds a bit on the soap opera side but the trailer looked magnificent.
JONAH HEX (Warner Brothers) Genre: Supernatural Western. DC Comics adaptation about a gunslinger with infernal powers seeking revenge on the rancher who wronged him. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.1 Josh Brolin is inspired casting for the title character.
THE KILLER INSIDE ME (IFC) Genre: Film Noir. Based on pulp writer Jim Thompson’s novel, a sheriff involved in a love triangle finds his own homicidal tendencies surfacing. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.4 Great trailer, but wondering if Casey Affleck is the right guy for Noir.
LET IT RAIN (IFC) Genre: French Drama. A housekeeper’s son decides to film a documentary on the lady of the house’s daughter, a feminist politician – leading to chaos. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.0 An interesting concept, but haven’t seen a lot of ink on this release yet.
TOY STORY 3 (Disney/Pixar) Genre: Animated Feature. When Andy goes off to college, Woody and the gang get donated to a day care center. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D). RATING: 1.3 It’s been a decade since the last one; is the magic still there?

JUNE 25, 2010

DOGTOOTH (Kino International) Genre: Drama. Three teenagers confined to a country estate by control freak parents are visited by a security guard who shakes the family to its core. Release Strategy: New York only. RATING: 3.3 I haven’t seen a whole lot of Greek cinema, so this might well be worth checking out.
GROWN UPS (Columbia) Genre: Comedy. A youth championship basketball team reunites as adults at a summer camp to celebrate the passing of their coach. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 2.1 An All-Star cast makes this a comedy worth looking into.
KNIGHT AND DAY (20th Century Fox) Genre: Action Comedy. A woman goes on a blind date with a man who turns out to be a spy who has rescuing the world on his mind. Release Strategy: Wide. RATING: 1.6 Tom Cruise needs a hit and this figures to be it.
RESTREPO (National Geographic) Genre: Documentary. Acclaimed journalists Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spend a year with a U.S. platoon in one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.8 A powerful look at what it’s like to wage war in the 21st century.
SOUTH OF THE BORDER (Cinema Libre) Genre: Documentary. Filmmaker Oliver Stone does a documentary on controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 3.1 Chavez gets excoriated by the Republicans; this is a response from a man who clearly admires him.

WILD GRASS (Sony Classics) Genre: Drama. A stolen wallet leads to obsession and romance. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.7 Director Alain Resnais made some of the most innovative films of the French New Wave.

JUNE 30, 2010

LOVE RANCH (E1 Entertainment) Genre: Period Drama. A heavyweight prizefighter becomes part of a love triangle in one of the first legal brothels in Nevada. Release Strategy: Limited. RATING: 2.9 I wonder who cast Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci as a married couple?
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE (Summit) Genre: Vampire Romance. Bella is torn between her vampire love and her werewolf friend while an old enemy plots revenge. Release Strategy: Wide (Standard, IMAX). RATING: 3.3 And the hysteria continues…

SCHEDULED TO BE REVIEWED HERE AS NEW RELEASES

Killers, Splice, The A-Team, The Karate Kid, Winter’s Bone, Jonah Hex, Toy Story 3, Grown Ups, Knight and Day