Sony // 2009 // 119 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // October 7th, 2010
Stravinsky's wife: "Don't you like color?"
Coco Chanel: "As long as it's black."
A beautiful film that could ably serve as a sequel to 2009's Coco Before Chanel, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky shows the celebrated designer years later as a successful rich woman making bad romantic decisions. She develops a crush on the artist Igor Stravinsky after a disaster of a performance of his now-classic "Rites of Spring." Chanel finds out he is living in poverty seven years later, exiled from his own country, and so invites him and his family to live in her well-appointed French home. Her motives are never entirely altruistic because she wants him, and so complications emerge from the affair that is played out with a wife living under the same roof. Two artists create a mournful romance that bumps along without many dramatic moments. We simply see two people in pain finding each other, and the clashing of two great giants of their professions. Coco is mourning the loss of her great love while Stravinsky watches his wife deteriorate with tuberculosis.
The film opens with the gorgeous recreation of the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring" complete with dancers performing a jerky ballet choreographed by famed Russian choreographer Vaslaw Nijinsky. It's a thrilling passage, and one that works perfectly to set up the historical affair and meeting of two great minds. Unfortunately little else lives up to the high drama of the opening sequence. Design and style rule as we are taken on tours of Coco's black and white estate, and there's tons of intense staring set to Stravinsky's music. Anna Mouglalis (I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster) plays Coco as a sly and knowing woman given to half smiles. She looks gorgeous in the mandatory black tailored outfits adorned with pearls. Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) plays the tightlipped Russian composer with the right intensity. The two actors make a striking pair, and they are given a gorgeous stage to act it all out on. There's just not much more here that is of historical significance other than Chanel's creation of her No. 5 perfume. The joy is in the style rather than the substance, but that seems predictable with a film concerned with clothes and music. What makes the whole thing human is the struggle of the wife (Russian film star Yelena Morozova) who allows the affair simply so that she and her family can carry on. If anything makes this grand spectacle grounded it is her presence as the affair plays out.
The DVD includes a strong anamorphic widescreen transfer that preserves the theatrical ratio. Colors and black levels look good, and there's no trouble with all the black and white patterns that would normally be problematic. Great care has been taken to make the film look as good as it did in the cinema, and that is a plus given the visuals are the strength of the project. The surround sound track does nicely with all the orchestral passages, and creates a natural field for the dialogue. There is a making-of featurette on the disc that concentrates quite a bit on the opening sequence. We get to see on the set footage as French people shout at each other to recreate the first performance of the "Rites of Spring." Then it moves to the rest of the film, and we get scattered use of French and English as they discuss the scenes and the characters. It's a nice piece, and substantial enough to make up for the lack of anything else besides a theatrical trailer.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky gives us a stylish affair of two icons who came together with little regard for what it would do to the people around them. It's a gorgeous looking movie with little more to say than genius is often given to being cold and calculated in love. It's a study of two very studied people who lived a performance of themselves. We're looking at a woman who saw the world in black and white, a female who was the very definition of what the modern woman would become. Stravinsky is all fire and brooding as a man, and so the pair are interesting enough to watch for a couple of hours. It's well worth looking into if you're a fan of fashion and music, even if the film is glossy style over substance at every turn. It is a sumptuous visual and aural feast with only one real breaking heart on the sidelines. It's the humans who are always crushed when gods get together.
Guilty of being painfully studied and stylish.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R