Monday, December 6, 2010

Under 250: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinksy

Two of the 20th century’s last great geniuses, composer Igor Stravinsky and designer Coco Chanel, were known in their own times for “getting around” as you young people say, perhaps even with each other (Chanel was Stravinksy’s patron during his time in Paris in the 1920’s but an affair between the two has never been verified). Such art, passion, and the meeting of creative minds makes an excellent backdrop for just such an affair, and director Jan Kounen wastes no time in seducing the audience with some of the sexiest cinematography and production sets out there. Composer Gabriel Yared's intensely beautiful score maintains that mood with notes like black clouds, constantly churning against the confines of Chanel’s stark black and white wallpapered house, always hinting at Stravinsky’s masterpiece, The Rite of Spring, without losing its own unique qualities.

Yet despite all the pent up passion, the film has a detached air, aided by Anna Mouglalis' excellent embodiment of Chanel, who plays the design giant with a constant dark and bemused expression, her furies and passions unleashed only with a delicate darkening of tone or the squaring of her eyebrows. That doesn’t bother me, even when the couple is engaged in what are very realistic sexual encounters that lack the bodice ripping action many might expect from this sort of thing. But the coldness does become problematic when it comes to Mads Mikkelsen's Stravinsky. Perhaps Stravinsky was a quiet, austere man, allowing his art to release whatever demons were inside. Mikkelsen barely shows any emotion about anything, and unlike Mouglalis’ subtle portrayal of Chanel where the surface still communicates something, no matter how restrained, he doesn’t offer up any depth to a person who a mere five minutes of research exposes as someone with not only a lot to say, but a lot of controversial and extraordinary ideas. The few times that Mikkelsen does blow-up, throwing a vase against a wall or punching out note after growling note at the piano, are welcome and refreshing, as is the interesting dynamic between Chanel and Stravinsky’s wife Katarina (Yelena Morozova who plays her role as one typically would, but perfectly) as they balance the power and love of Stravinsky between them.

There’s a lot going on in this film regarding art, beauty, love, and gender, and while it is a near miss of movie thanks to Mikkelsen’s performance (whose weakness begins to expose the film’s real inability to reach a decent level of depth with two people who undoubtedly possessed more than the Mariana Trench), what it lacks is made up for in atmosphere and the experience that is so excellently created.

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