Random Review: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

March 22, 2011 in Fashion, Personalities, Random Review by alliemcc

At this point, I think I am willing to watch, listen, or look at anything to do with Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.  And not because “I love Chanel”, but because I am just fascinated by her as a woman and an entrepreneur.

I have read one of the bios, and saw the Lifetime movie, and have been waiting for this movie, and Coco Avant Chanel to come out on Netflix streaming (I’m too impatient? lazy? to put it in my DVD queue and then move it to the top of the list).

Coco & Igor opened for wide release in September, 2010.  It’s based on a debut novel by poet Chris Greenhalgh.

Stravinsky, looking all manly. Photographer unknown.

I was hooked from the opening sequence: trippy and dark, like Art Nouveau wallpaper seen through a kaleidoscope—and the effect is just enhanced by moody symphonic music (Stravinsky?).

Then we transition into the opening scenes in 1913, dark and starkly lit by gas lamps.

The first scene is, honestly, cliché: young Chanel smoking a cigarette and cutting the laces on her corset. She's on her way to the premier of the Ballet Russes with music composed by Igor Stravinsky, whom she has yet to meet.

After the revolutionary, modernist performance (there was a riot in real life—can you imagine people rioting over a symphony these days?! Love it.), we jump to 1920, where you can easily see that Anna Mouglalis was made for the role of Coco Chanel. Her bobbed hair just emphasizes the length of her neck, and the simple, gamine cut of her clothes hangs just right off her angular shoulders.

Mouglalis is ridiculously soignee, and does Chanel just right with a bit of a swagger, a low voice and clipped cadence. Compared to the actress who played the younger Chanel in the Lifetime movie, this is light years beyond—you can see the mature, successful, independent Chanel as a woman comfortable in her own skin, her house, her career.

(I must also add that Mads Mikkelsen who played Stravinsky, is one sexy man-beast.)

She is a Boss.

They are both so self-possessed, and so committed to their vision, you wonder how they could not be attracted to each other, and at the same time you wonder how they could even communicate.

In pop music terms, Igor is like this, and Coco is like this (sorry it's French– basically, "I live my life my way, and in my house I always win").

You can see the intensity, and get a hint of the possible magnetism… Via gmvfeel, photographer unknown.

It’s a gorgeous film, although none of the characters, least of all Mademoiselle Chanel, are romantic or even likeable.

The sets are amazing. The country home where she invites Stravinsky and his family to stay is all typical pre-WWII Chanel, in black and white Art Deco motifs.

Still from the movie, Coco & Igor

The soundtrack, mostly by Stravinsky, is dark and modern, and the dialogue is appropriately scarce, even gruff.

Most of the action takes place on her country estate outside Paris, with very few excursions to the theater or her shop on Rue Cambon. So the scenes at Gasse where she is testing perfume formulas seem like a different world. It’s so light and softened with greenery, and the perfumier (I think I just made that up) even has a completely different style than the urban characters. It’s like Willie Wonka and the Perfume Factory.

The costumes did a great job at reinforcing the personalities of the characters, although they were slightly off-period, in particular Chanel’s hair – but I think that rather than detracting from the film, it serves to reinforce that this is a work of fiction, mostly speculation about what might have happened between her and Stravinsky.

Above all, this is a sensual and sensuous film, with great lighting, textures, settings.

The final scenes showing an aged Chanel and Stravinsky, in different cities, apparently remembering their affair were pretty silly, but I suppose it’s the only way you could show that theirs was a brief, doomed, but intense pairing between 2 major creative forces, and not just a furtive, extramarital fling between 2 people in the same social circle.

For more background, here's a great interview with the director, Jan Kounen.

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