Coco Chanel is apparently so important that she warrants two biopics in as many years. Coco Before Chanel , released last year, focused on her rise from penniless seamstress to fashion diva and her romance with Arthur “Boy” Capell.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky picks up where Coco Before Chanel left off and tackles a more promising period of the great fashion designer’s life – surely the romantic entanglement of two of history’s great figures would make for a searing and passionate film? Sadly that’s not the case as Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is a stylish but lacklustre affair which never lives up to the promise of its subject matter.
It begins with an overlong performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring whose unmelodic score and ill-conceived ballet was enough to incite a riot at its 1913 opening performance in Paris, as Coco, now in her 30s, watches dispassionately from the stalls. She sets herself up as a patron for Stravinsky and he, his wife Katarina (Yelena Morozova) and their two children move into Coco’s mansion in the countryside so Igor can work on his music but Coco and Igor begin an affair which threatens to destroy his family.
Anna Margoulis is infinitely more statuesque than Audrey Tatou’s portrayal but director Jan Kounen casts her in a harsh light with few if any redeeming features. While her terseness effectively conveys her fierce independence, it also makes her cold to the point of inhuman – undermining Igor’s marriage and then discarding him when he ceases to amuse her. There’s little romance to speak of – more a tense relationship which seems merely a convenient distraction to her.
Mikkelsen fares better as Stravinsky, struggling internally with his new found passion which is invigorating his music but destroying his family. Unfortunately there’s nothing revelatory about either performance, little context given to Stravinsky’s music or its importance or Chanel’s genius besides a needless subplot about the creation of Chanel No. 5.
If anything, the heroine of the story is Igor’s wife Katarina, who comes to the dawning realisation that her husband is having an affair in the next room but tolerates it for the sake of the children and because it seems to stimulate his musical creativity. She makes sacrifices where Chanel makes none.
Director Jan Kounen seems more concerned with the film’s presentation – the admittedly beautiful set design, gorgeous framing and lavish costumes capture Coco’s elegance perfectly – but fails to probe the depths of what made these characters tick. Too much time is devoted to scenes which have no dialogue, just characters sitting pointedly while Stravinsky’s music plays in foreground. These frequently go on for an agonisingly long time; it’s at first intriguing to see where it’s going but rapidly becomes boring, then exasperating and then simply soporific.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky looks fantastic but it’s something perfectly ordinary wrapped up in something beautiful, like an ornately designed box for All Bran. Perhaps beauty is only skin deep after all.