Carnal love drives Chanel, Stravinsky

Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen play the designer and the composer in the story of their years-long liaison.
Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen play the designer and the composer in the story of their years-long liaison.
Posted: June 25, 2010

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky opens with the fierce and furious premiere of the Russian composer's The Rite of Spring in a Paris concert hall in 1913. The audience's animated response does not stop at catcalls and walkouts: The muscular ballet, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and pulsing with dissonance, literally starts a riot.

Director Jan Kounen stages and shoots this momentous event with sweep and vigor. It's an extraordinary beginning, and while the rest of the film is decidedly less so, it's difficult not to be captivated by the storm-tossed romance that follows - and by the lush elegance surrounding it all.

Starring Anna Mouglalis, straight-backed, elegant, and confident, as the preternaturally chic designer (and formidable businesswoman), and Mads Mikkelsen as the inward, intense musical genius, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is a series of beautiful snapshots of their years-long liaison. It's an affair that had its roots at that 1913 performance: Chanel smiling approvingly in the Champs-Élysées theater, as the crowd around her roared with offense at Stravinsky's work.

In 1920, after the World War, she meets Stravinsky and soon is offering her country manor for the impoverished composer, his wife and children to live in. But this is an act less of charity, or patronage, than of selfishness and desire. She can keep Stravinsky close, watch him work, and take him to bed. (And take him in the woods, or wherever else she likes.)

It isn't long before Stravinsky's wife, Catherine (Elena Morozova), realizes what's going on. The fissure between the couple, and the effect of Stravinsky's reckless obsession on the children, are palpable.

Mouglalis offers a cold and steely version of the French fashion icon (in marked contrast to Audrey Tautou's Coco Before Chanel). Mikkelsen (who was the villain in the last Bond film, Quantum of Solace) offers a Stravinsky who is rumpled, raging, full of passion. And Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky offers two hours of luxury and loveliness, music and art, and a bit of sexually charged madness, too.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies

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