‘Coco’ intertwines high art, eroticism
affair flares as it might have happened between chanel, stravinsky
If last year’s “Bright Star” was the best depiction in years of high art’s ability to both convey and inspire deeply felt emotion, “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky” is here to remind us of art’s more carnal powers — to prove how hot cool modernism can be.
Telling the story of a tumultuous affair between two of the 20th century’s most influential creative people, Jan Kounen’s film (adapting a book by Chris Greenhalgh) drips with artfulness from its opening frames, in which eerie clouds of orchestral music accompany a credits sequence
Continued from D decorated with kaleidoscopic filigree.
After those credits comes a sequence so thrilling for classical music buffs that it would be worth paying to see this movie in a theater even if you couldn’t care less about the composer’s private life. Kounen transports us to 1913 Paris for the legendary premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”
That scene, where the audience’s vehement response to the challenging ballet has often been described as a riot, is vividly depicted here — from the onstage performance and the agitation it engendered to the ensuing backstage drama, with choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky working heroically to keep his dancers from falling apart under the pressure.
We also see one woman in the crowd sitting rapt while others boo: Coco Chanel. Years later (we’re picking up where the recent film “Coco Before Chanel” left off), the composer and the fashion designer meet. He is a struggling artist with a family to support; she is a single entrepreneur living an aristocrat’s life at her country estate.
Out of the blue, she offers to be his patron, moving the Stravinsky family into her home while he works on his music. We’re left to debate for ourselves whether her motives are strictly charitable.
As the family moves in, though, it’s hard to deny the inevitable: Igor’s ailing, oldfashioned wife struggles to be gracious about adapting to the stark Art Deco rooms set aside for her family, but Chanel’s sensibility is so overpowering here that it can only be a matter of time before Stravinsky comes under her sway.
Soon enough, the piano in his study goes silent while the two enjoy the first of many surprisingly vigorous love scenes.
“Coco Before Chanel,” starring Audrey Tautou, might hurt the box office prospects for a second film, but the two portraits complement each other surprisingly well — both chronologically and in the way this movie’s Chanel, Anna Mouglalis, brings to the character an intimidating self-confidence that wouldn’t have been appropriate in the first film.
Between her and Mads Mikkelsen’s Stravinsky, the couple packs enough uncompromising creativity and brainy sex appeal to sustain this story through any pedestrian potholes it might encounter: her low, sensual voice roughened by years of smoking; his searing, intense gaze magnified by those famous round spectacles — the actors turn these figures into rock stars of the humanities.
The affair ends badly, with one of these uncompromising personalities conquering the other and moving on. But an enigmatic epilogue, glimpsing the artists, alone, at the end of their lives, imagines (if only to magnify the film’s hard romanticism) that this interlude left each of them permanently haunted. Rating: R for sexuality, nudity. Running time: 2 hours. Theater: Arbor.
As iconic designer Coco Chanel, Anna Mouglalis radiates brainy sex appeal and uncompromising creativity to match that of composer Igor Stravinsky.
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