Monday, July 26, 2010

Coco & Igor

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen as Igor Stravinsky and French actress Anna Mouglalis as Coco Chanel.

TD and I are now enjoying a beautiful week at the beach but before we left New York last week I had the chance to see the movie Coco & Igor, which recounts the short love affair between Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. My most popular and most visited post is about Coco Chanel, and I also enjoyed writing about the movie Coco Before Chanel, so I was looking forward to seeing this movie. Neatly, this movie starts exactly where Coco Before Chanel ends, so they offer continuing stories. Directed by the Dutch-born French director Jan Kounen, and with French sub-titles, Coco & Igor begins in 1913 with Chanel attending the world premier of The Rite of Spring, the revolutionary ballet from the Ballets Russes dance company, with music by Russian composer Stravinsky and choreography by Nijinsky.

You may remember that I previously wrote about the Ballets Russes, so it was fun to see in this movie its impresario Serge Diaghilev nervously pacing along with Stravinsky and Nijinsky before the curtain goes up on the premier in the Theatre des Champs-Elysees. What follows is a long extraordinary scene, with the camera swooping over the entire theater, showing how the audience dressed in black tie and elaborate Paul Poiret finery reacts to the discordant, avant garde piece. First there is booing and catcalling, then fist fights break out and finally the police are called in to quell the riot. Of course the Rite of Spring would become a seminal work of art of the twentieth century but at the time it was almost beyond comprehension. Throughout the riot, Chanel sits in the audience looking as if she is fully understands the visionary piece.
Soon Chanel invites the impecunious Stravinsky and his wife and three children to live in her villa outside Paris. There the composer works on revisions for a new production of The Rite of Spring, and, predictably, these two forces of nature begin an affair.

Hanky panky on the piano bench.

The style of Chanel's house and clothes is a pleasure to take in. Everything is elegant black and white – no, it's cream actually. Stravinksy's wife asks Chanel if she likes any colors and the couturier answers, "As long as it's black." Someone in the movie observes that Chanel "makes even grief look chic." Throughout she wears t-strap high heels which is such a flattering shoe. In the very first scene of the movie, Chanel says, "I want to breathe" as she cuts the corset she is wearing with scissors, symbolizing how she freed women from the uncomfortable fashions of the time with her natural designs that followed the lines of the body. Later in the movie she is shown working on a dress in her salon, cutting away at it until she remarks, "There – a strong clean line."

It makes you want to go home and edit your closet.
Stravinksy wears a lot of band collar shirts and vests – I like that look.

At one point Chanel travels to Grasse in the south of France and works on the formula for her new perfume with the Russian perfumer Ernest Beaux. He shows her five samples, and she chooses the fifth so she names it Chanel No 5; we know now that it becomes the bestselling fragrance of all time.

The affair with the composer progresses until Stravinsky's wife and children become aware of it, creating a sad and unhappy situation. During an argument Chanel and Stravinsky fight about who is more powerful: "You are not an artist, Coco," says Stravinsky, "You are a shopkeeper." I think he is wrong here: Chanel was an artist and her medium was clothes. But that is the end of that affair.
It's a pleasure to live in the era for the length of the movie, and I didn't quite want it to end: "Please, just one more scene." There is a funny bit about Diaghilev when Chanel walks into his office to see a young man stark naked with his back to the camera facing Diaghilev. "You can go now," Diaghilev says to the boy, and to Chanel: "I'm interviewing for a new secretary." The last scenes show Chanel and Stravinsky in old age: she is in her suite at the Ritz in Paris and he is at the Essex House in New York City where he died in 1971 – they are still thinking of each other.
Anna Mouglalis plays Chanel throughout as regal, cold, and imperious, gliding through the rooms of her villa with little emotion.

Chanel with Diaghilev on the left.
After the movie was over, I was questioning that portrayal of Chanel. Even from clips you see of Chanel on tv, she is scrappy and garrulous, fast with the quips and quick to lose her temper. I think Chanel was more hot than cold, but that is my observation. Maybe some one who knew Chanel could tell us! In any case, I did the enjoy the movie very much and recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful things.


french-treasures said...

Thank you for the lovely description. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie.

BookishNYC said...

I saw this film last week, and just adored it. It was certainly a visual treat, and I really enjoyed seeing (listening) to how Stravinsky revised Rite of Spring. I'm quite surprised that the reviews were so tepid.

Bart Boehlert said...

french-treasures, I think you will enjoy it!
BookishNYC, I believe the reviews were lukewarm for the first Chanel movie too, but the subject and the era are irresistible.

Kathy said...

Thanks for the review...I'll have to see it now. I have been in an "edit everything" mood lately. Maybe it's my age! K