Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

Starring Audrey Tautou, Mads Mikkelson and Anna Magloulis. Directed by Jan Koenen. 118mins.
Rated MA 15+ ( ??? )

According to the novelist and screenwriter, Christopher Greenhalgh, there is evidence of the relationship between the designer and composer as portrayed in this film.  Chanel was born the year after Stravinsky, in 1883.  They both died in 1971.  However, the action of this film begins with the Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913, a theatrical disaster causing a riot, and focuses on the period 1920-1921, when The Rite of Spring was performed again and a success and Coco Chanel launched No. 5.

This is one of those biopics which highlights the main successes of the leads and concentrates on their relationship.  Actually, neither Chanel nor Stravinsky seem to have been strong or really controversial characters for biopics.  It is all quite low key despite the importance of their achievements.  (And this film anticipates Coco Before Chanel with Audrey Tautou.)  An audience wanting sparks flying will be disappointed.

That is not to say the story is without drama.  The re-creation of Paris 1913, the performance of The Rite of Spring, the costumes and choreography (researched from the original staging), Nijinsky rushing on stage to keep the dancers in rhythm as the din of protesting audience drowned the music, with Diaghalev turning the lights on and off and the police arriving, is arrestingly shown.

However, most of the film has Chanel inviting Stravinsky, his wife and four children to her villa so that he can compose.  They have an affair, he losing control, she always in control.  At the same time that he is revising The Rite, she is searching for a perfume that will be distinctive.  After many tests, she chooses the sample in the fifth bottle, her No 5.

Mads Mikkelson is an intense performer, especially of villains (the Pusher series, Le Chiffre in Casino Royale) and makes Stravinsky a serious, sometimes tormented Russian.  Anna Magloulis is striking and majestic as Coco Chanel (with a stylish black and white wardrobe of costumes to match).

This is a decorative biopic for entertainment and information rather than a study of its characters and their relationship.

Madman  Out April 15 2010

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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