Reviewing “Coco and Igor”

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

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This film is stylishly shot in muted tones of blue and brown. This in itself adds emphasis to the black and white elegance of Coco’s dresses and the Art Deco interior of her grand villa just outside of Paris. This biopic tells the story of a passionate affair between the exiled Russian composer and the modernist fashion designer. The sound track is richly steeped in Stravinsky’s music, by turns lyrical and harshly cacophonic, together with snippets of Twenties jazz.

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It commences, after some intriguing kaleidoscopic graphics with the riotous reception given to the strange ballet, “The Rite of Spring” in Paris in 1913. Audience tension builds with the staccato cutting and editing as the frantic music impacts. The bourgeois audience is soon shocked by the frenzied dancing. However, this does not include Coco who on the surface remains cool, aloof yet mysteriously, she is deeply moved. Anna Mouglalis, playing Chanel, charmingly conveys the broken hearted businesswoman whose heart has been shattered when she loses her young lover in a car accident. These incidents were also covered in the very different film, directed by Anne Fontaine in Coco before Chanel with Audrey Tautou in the female lead.

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The modernist Russian composer and pianist, Igor Stravinsky, played by rising Danish star, Mads Mikkelson although vulnerable and racked with doubt –as well as exiled by the Bolshevik Revolution- nevertheless becomes the absolute epitome of artistic determination. After the couple are introduced by Diaghalev, they wander together among the dinosaur bones in the Jardin des Plantes and Coco, by now rich and successful offers the Stravinsky family refuge in her wonderful grand villa. Reluctantly Catherine, Stravinsky’s wife and also his musical mentor agrees to this arrangement. In this grand and luxurious setting the Stravinsky family, children and animals settle with differing degrees of comfort. Coco enjoys his music and dances with obvious enjoyment at the arrival of the new household.

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Coco learns to trill on the piano and is soon sowing buttons back on to the composer’s worn suit. It is not long before the innovative composer succumbs to the refined charms of his hostess. This gives rise to the desperate heartache for Stravinsky’s wife, Catherine –already suffering from consumption and frequent pregnancies. This part is played with great emotion by Elena Morozova. There then ensues a battle between chic and chagrin. Stravinsky is at first inspired to write music of erotic charm. However, there is some other tussle emerging when Igor fails to recognise or respect Coco’s estimate of her own work as ranking with the artistry of his own work. The children are starting to notice and Madame Stravinsky withdraws and the music echoes these volcanic rifts as the man is torn between the love of his family and the independent and alluring Coco. She becomes preoccupied with another sort of chemistry, that which leads her to develop Chanel No.5. This is an evocative and intriguing film, exploring the fractures in personality and the lingering fragrance of an exquisite perfume.

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