Movies: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky * * *
(15A, LIMITED RELEASE)
Much was made last year of the 'battle' between two rival biopics of Coco Chanel being released around the same time.
The first, Coco Before Chanel, starring Audrey Tatou, opened in multiplexes while this one, a more artsy affair, was appointed the closing film of the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
In reality, there is no rivalry. Tatou's Coco depicted the formative forces behind Chanel, while at the start of this film real-life Chanel model Anna Mouglalis presents the designer as a fully formed woman of independent thought and behaviour. The opening scene shows her hacking open her restrictive corset, a reference to the revolution in women's clothing that she was on the verge of inspiring in her Parisian showroom.
As such, this Chanel is one of the few to appreciate the bold new music of exiled Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. We see her sitting in the audience at the infamous 1913 debut of his new work The Rite of Spring, which was so discordant to conservative Parisians that it sparked a riot. Coco is intrigued by this kindred free spirit Stravinksy, but they do not meet until seven years later at a party.
By then both their worlds have been changed utterly, his by the Russian Revolution of 1917 and her France by the ravages of World War I. Chanel invites the struggling Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen), his tubercular wife and their four children to stay in her villa outside Paris to give him space to compose. Long, smouldering glances over the dinner table ensue and the pair begin a torrid affair.
More striking perhaps than the energetic sex scenes directed by Jan Kounen is the power struggle between this narcissistic pair. Chanel is used to being her own mistress and a severe boss in her hugely successful Parisian store. Stravinsky is carelessly dismissive of his loyal wife Katerina (Elena Morozova) and frustrated that his genius is misunderstood. As such, it is difficult to empathise with each of these cool creatures.
The look of the film is impeccably stylish, but, after an exciting first half-hour or so, the interminable mind games between these two monster egos become wearying.