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Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

May 2, 2011

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (2009)
Director: Jan Kounen
Actors: Mads Mikkelsen, Anna Mouglalis, Elena Morozova

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Synopsis: Coco Chanel has an affair with Igor Stravisnky, when she offers his family sanctuary after the Bolshevik revolution.

Review: This is an artfully rendered film (appropriately enough given the subject matter) which speculates intriguingly on an affair in the Twenties between Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. What director Jan Kounen seems to be suggesting is that Chanel and Stravinsky were artistic kindred spirits, with the stark modernity of Stravinsky’s musical compositions – which were initially rejected by the establishment – reminding Chanel of her own daringly risqué couture. This sets the narrative wheels in motion as Chanel offers Stravinsky and his family a refuge at her country retreat once he has been exiled from Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Though the subsequent illicit liaison between the two is dramatically predictable, what is interesting is how the film dissects the affair. Eschewing conventional soapy ingredients of arguments and relationship angst, the film takes on a detached, impressionistic eye. Much of that impressionism probably has to do with the filmmakers being careful about how libellous their speculations are, but it’s also a clear artistic decision – with the intended effect being for the affair to represent both characters’ mutual regeneration. For Stravinsky, it offered material and emotional succour as he sought to get his work in the mainstream, while Chanel got to use her wealth for philanthropic purposes while also getting some human connection back in her life after the recent death of her English partner. Though the film becomes almost a little too formal and ascetic in parts, it’s perhaps appropriate that an affair between two people famed for their art, should be represented more through décor, music and mood than simple words and dramaturgy. (May 2011)

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