out of Five
Running time: 118
Strikingly shot and superbly acted by Mikkelsen and Mouglalis, this would make an excellent companion piece to last year's Coco Before Chanel, but it actively avoids the expected dramatic moments and is often too cold and distant to really engage on an emotional level.
What's it all about?
Directed by Jan Kounen, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is adapted by Chris Greenhalgh from his own book, Coco & Igor, about the relationship between French fashion designer Gabriella 'Coco' Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen). After a brief prelude in which Coco attends the disastrous 1913 premiere of Stravinsky's The Rites of Spring, the film begins in 1920 with the now famous Coco inviting Stravinsky to live and work in her gorgeous country house, Bel Respiro, along with his tubercular wife Katarina (Elena Morozova) and their four children.
With Igor slaving away on a new symphony and Coco under the same roof, working on her designs and the ingredients for a new perfume, it isn't long before the two begin a passionate affair. Needless to say, Katarina's suspicions are aroused fairly early on, but will she leave or allow the affair to continue for the sake of Igor's work, the children's security and her own health?
Mouglalis and the always-excellent Mikkelsen are both superb and there's palpable chemistry between them, particularly in the early scenes. There's also strong support from Morozova, who does a terrific job of portraying Katarina's complex emotional state and the quiet agony of her initial decision to keep quiet.
The film is strikingly shot throughout, with the blacks and whites of the production design echoing Chanel's own work, just as in Coco Before Chanel. The Stravinsky-heavy score is good too.
For the most part, Kounen studiously avoids the big dramatic moments that usually accompany such films, resulting in an emotional coldness that doesn't quite work. However, it also backfires when it attempts the expected biopic scenes – for example, it's impossible not to laugh when Coco is choosing a fragrance from Chanels number 1 through 10. (Oh, the tension, etc.)
That said, Kounen has a terrific eye for detail and orchestrates several powerful scenes that feel very naturalistic, most notably the buttoned-up intensity of Coco and Igor's first sexual encounter.
Despite some slow pacing and an emotional coldness in the direction that is often frustrating, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is still a watchable drama with strong performances from Mikkelsen and Mouglalis.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (15)