Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

On Saturday, Sally and I went to see Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky over at the Tower Theatre.

This is an interesting, elegant movie! Loved it!

Probably the most important moment in the history of Art in the 20th Century was the forced dislocation of the Russian court, and the many artists associated with it, to the West, on account of Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. All of a sudden, the world's best artists were dumped into the West, particularly in Paris. The impact was profound - we are still reaping the artistic harvest that resulted.

The film follows a love affair between composer Igor Stravinsky and his patron, fashion pioneer Coco Chanel.

There really aren't many films about this moment in time, and this film fills a needed gap. I particularly loved to see cinematic representations of the Ballet Russe under Diaghilev. Along the way, we see Nijinsky, and a young Massine too.

(In the late 1930's, Massine came to run one of the branches of the Ballet Russe, the one that ended up in Hollywood for a time, and changed the world in so many ways. My dance instructor at the University of Arizona, George Zoritch, happily worked under Massine. In the end, everything is connected together. We owe so much to these people!)

Chanel is portrayed as the epitome of modern woman: sleek, beautiful, utterly independent. Stravinsky, of course, represented the same ideal of modernism, but in music. Thus, their love affair thus resembles something less like unleashed passion and more like the mating of two beautiful machines.

There are complications along the way, of course. Igor Stravinsky had a large family and a devoted, but ill wife, Katia. She, in turn, was highly-intelligent and all-seeing, but being the familiar wife, was anything but sleek and modern. The 20th Century was hard on anyone who was not sleek, beautiful, and utterly independent.

Mouglalis and Mikkelson are amazing actors!

It's interesting how, as we sail forward in time, and the future becomes the past, how the world becomes less and less modern. It's a demanding ideal! Nevertheless, what Anna Mouglalis has, I want! (Was that my outside voice?)

Reviewer Louise Keller weighs in:
Ultimately it is all about the casting and Anna Mouglalis (think Rachel Ward / Cate Blanchett fusion) makes a striking Coco to sexy Mads Mikkelsen's Igor who together create a book of beautiful music together.

There is one other intriguing element. Stravinsky's ailing wife Catherine (Yelena Morozova, excellent), who is forced to tolerate the affair, while living under the same roof. But this is no happy ménage a trois. Igor's initial fascination and obsession with Coco prompts the crescendo of fervour to his compositions before their discordant aspect is accentuated as the relationship takes it course and eventually sours.

In a stunning, memorable opening scene, we (like Coco) are there for the premiere of Stravinsky's controversial and outrageous ballet (performed by the Ballet Russes), The Rite of Spring. It is unlike anything anyone has ever seen or heard before. The dancing, the costumes and the music are simply too confronting for an audience used to Swan Lake and who consider the work 'too new and daring'. By the time Coco and Igor are introduced seven years later after the car-accident death of her lover Boy ('she makes even grief seem chic'), their physical attraction is obvious. Coco plays benefactor, inviting the penniless composer and his family to stay, but there are primal urges and she feels no guilt. There are similarities creatively. Neither creates their work on paper: she designs with fabric, he on the piano. While he works with the metronome, she is testing fragrances in the lab in Grasse, discarding those that are too sweet or vinegary, and opting eventually for the famed No 5.

I was intrigued by this fascinating film whose seduction goes far beyond the affair between Coco and Igor. We are seduced by the music, the exquisite production design (influenced by Coco's penchant for black and white) and the beautiful settings. The clothes are fabulous, too. Although the ending does not work at all (director Jan Kounen has made a severe misjudgment here), there is enough substance to the rest of the work to make it a pleasure.

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