Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Whenever I’m watching a biopic, what’s usually uppermost in my mind is the question of how much of what I’m watching is bullshit. In the case of Princess Kaiulani, it was clear that it was almost entirely bullshit. Jan Kounen’s Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, based on a novel by Chris Greenhalgh (who also wrote the screenplay), seems to have at least some bullshit in it, though how much I’m not sure.

The film starts out promisingly, with a depiction of the disastrous premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet, The Rite of Spring in 1913, at which the police had to be called in to prevent a full-scale riot. (The filmmakers recreate Nijinsky’s controversial choreography.) The film then jumps to the year 1920. Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) is introduced to Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) at a party. She invites him and his family to stay at her villa outside Paris. Stravinsky, who is living in straitened financial circumstances at the time, can’t afford to say no. Shortly after he and his family move in, he begins having an affair with Chanel. Eventually she demands that he leave his wife, Catherine (Elena Morozova). Stravinsky waffles. Finally Catherine, who has learned of the affair, decides the issue by leaving with her children. However, Chanel rejects Stravinsky at this point, apparently because she’s disenchanted with his indecisiveness. She nevertheless provides the funding for a new performance of The Rite of Spring.

The idea behind this movie apparently is that the love affair between Chanel and Stravinsky inspired them both to new levels of creativity. I didn’t really get this impression from the film, however, because Stravinsky mostly just revises The Rite of Spring. (Though Chanel does invent Chanel No. 5, which is something, at least.) I found it hard to become emotionally engaged with this film. Chanel comes across as cold and Stravinsky as self-absorbed. Perhaps they were like that in real life, but this doesn’t make for a compelling romantic film. I think I would have liked this picture better if it had shown more about the Parisian music scene of the time, instead of being so focused on the alleged romance between the title characters. Still the opening scene alone is almost worth the price of admission.

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