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Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

from Jan Kounen, director of "Dobermann"

Jan Kounen re-jiggers the biopic in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, a mesmerizing dual portrait of two titans of the 1920s, who had a short, passionate romance that coincided with highpoints of their respective careers. In his stylized adaptation of Chris Greenhalgh’s novel, Kounen takes the gamble of withholding insights into the pair’s psyches, choosing instead to channel the story mainly through visual means, showing the couple at work and making love, virtually under the pained, watchful gaze of Stravinsky’s consumptive wife. The recreation of Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) as a marketing genius ahead of her time and Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) as a musical revolutionary at the forefront of modernism – plus the erotic tango of two iron-willed equals – should prove catnip to lovers of films in which the only violence is the smashing of bourgeois convention. In the film’s elegant opening, set in 1913 at the infamous premiere of Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’, the credits gradually roll as the camera picks up Chanel, in attendance at the legendary performance; Stravinsky backstage, fearful of rejection and comforted by his wife and musical advisor, Catherine (Yelena Morozova). Of course, all hell breaks loose as the audience vents its rage at Stravinsky’s crashing, percussive score, crying ‘An insult to music!’ and ‘Go back to Russia!’ Crane shots capture the terrified dancers onstage, while gendarmes fan out to control the uproar. Kounen’s orchestration of the famous scandale is alone worth the price of admission. Cut to 1920 Paris, post-Russian Revolution. At a cocktail party, after a torrid exchange of looks between Igor and Coco, she invites the impoverished exile and his family to move into her lavish villa outside Paris where he can work. Her second agenda is transparent. Kounen adroitly alternates scenes of love-making – practically in view of Igor’s wife – with the composer feverishly working at his piano and Coco devising her signature fragrance Chanel #5 at a perfume factory in Grasse. The film, which was the closing-night selection at Cannes 2009, owes much to muscular turns from the principals. A one-time Chanel model, Mouglalis speaks in a throaty, masculine voice and portrays Coco with an imperious reserve that’s of a piece with her outsize ambitions, unheard of among women of that era. As conceived by Kounen, Coco’s determination to control the terms in her work and love make her a 21st-century heroine, no small part of the film’s appeal. Igor’s suffering wife is her polar opposite; ‘You’ve made her sick,’ Coco says to Igor, perhaps rightly. Mikkelsen, with his killer Slavic cheekbone, captures Igor’s energy and ferocious dignity –threatened by financial dependence on his benefactor – and thoroughly convinces as a composer at the piano. Coco’s clothes, which include a gown designed by Karl Lagerfeld, are to die for. And the gorgeous black-and-white decor of Coco’s villa, Gabriel Yared’s romantic score, and Stravinsky’s haunting music become characters in their own right in a story both intimate and legendary. – Erica Abeel, Film Journal International
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Directed by: 
Jan Kounen
Running Time: 
French, English Subtitles
Anna Mouglalis, Mads Mikkelsen, Elena Morozova, Grigori Manukov
Screenplay by: 
Chris Greenhalgh

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