Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review: Chanel Coco & Igor Stravinsky

Chanel Coco & Igor Stravinsky
Dir. Jan Kounen
Year: 2010
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 120mins

Fans of cinema may be experiencing a bit of deja vu lately. First there was Jim Sheridan's Brothers, which was a remake of Susanne Bier's Brødre. Then at the start of April we had Philippe Lioret's Welcome, which was, generally speaking, a better (and French) version of The Blind Side. Now comes Chanel Coco & Igor Stravisky (conveniently being shortened to Coco & Igor), which picks up directly after last year's Coco avant Chanel left off with the death of Coco's lover "Boy". These two films about Coco Chanel were made completely independent of one another and yet here they year, less than a year between release dates and sharing so many similarities, it's uncanny.

Thankfully, Coco & Igor jettisons the biopic-fodder that filled Coco avant Chanel's opening passages - the orphanage, the jazz bars, the career buildup - and dives right in to when Chanel began her love affair with Igor Stravinsky, the famed Russian composer and married father. On that basis I am thankful, but unfortunately this latest film suffers from many of the same problems that plagued last year's box office hit (Coco avant Chanel was the highest grossing foreign language film in Australia and the USA in 2009) such as its been-there-done-that feel. Except this time it's not the growing-up-in-poverty-before-making-good storyline that has been done before, it's the beginning-an-affair-with-a-married-man-in-a-time-when-women-were-only-meant-to-wear-pretty-hats that we've seen time and time again.

Anna Mouglalis gives by far the best performance of Coco Chanel that we've seen lately. She trumps Audrey Tautou's vague, limp reading of the fashion icon as well as the bombastic one of Shirley MacLaine in the made-for-TV movie Coco Chanel. Mouglalis' deep, throaty voice makes her stand out and gives an aura of authority that Tautou couldn't even attempt. Mads Mikkelsen is fair, if a little one-note, as Stravinsky, while Yelena Morozova impresses as his patient put upon wife, but nobody's performance breaks out from the framing that attempts to suffocate them.

The film is actually much more concerned with Igor than it is Coco, who is merely a more recognisable name to hang the curtains of the movie upon. Little to no attention is paid to Chanel's growing business apart from a few scenes in her Parisian shop, although there is a subplot involving the creation of Chanel No. 5 that feels superfluous, as if writer Chris Greenhalgh - also the author of the biography that the film is based on - and director Jan Kounen felt that they weren't putting in enough of Coco. As if they owed something to the audiences who had purchased a ticket based on the name of Coco Chanel. Chanel is by far the most interesting character in this or Coco avant Chanel and yet none of these filmmakers seem to be able to get her right. Her aloof independence surely doesn't help, but was this all her life really was? Screwing a married man in the study of her country estate? At least Coco avant Chanel played somewhat with the idea of Chanel's radical achievements.

Just as with the other Chanel film, the costumes in Coco & Igor are exceptional, with costume design by Chattoune and Fab (yes, those are their names) and even featuring an original Karl Largerfeld design for all you fashion crazies out there. Try and spot it! The art direction of the country estate makes it feel effectively lived in and the sound design is also of special note. Each step a person takes on the hardwood floors and every note played on the piano rings out of the speakers and helps the film feel more intimate than it really is. Unfortunately, David Ungaro's cinematography is incredibly dark at times and it's particularly bothersome during several early scenes when the audience is trying to figure out who everyone is. Meanwhile, I wouldn't be surprised to see Gabriel Yared show up on Oscar's radar for his musical score.

Coco & Igor is book-ended by two exceptional sequences. The first is a recital of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring with choreography by Vaslav Nijinski, which will thrill and delight many, both for visual wow factor and as a fascinating way of figuring out who all these noteworthy people are circling one another. The film ends with a five-minute montage sequence that makes a better case for the beautiful, dramatic and all too bitterly sad life that Coco lead than anything in the 110 or so minutes before it. It's a gorgeous sequence that almost had me re-evaluating the rest of the movie. I saw this movie nearly a month ago and this scene still lingers in my mind with its beautiful images set to Yared's wonderful score. Stay tuned until the end of the credits, too, as there is a little nugget of a scene that ties a neat little bow onto the life story of Coco Chanel. C

1 comment:

SF_Gal said...

Just saw the movie and agree on all points. I did NOT know about the Kaiser designing one of the costumes!! Was it the white dress she wore to the theatre? I remember thinking how much it looked like it could be from a recent Chanel collection...