Monday, 12 April 2010
FILM REVIEW: COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY
Jan Kounen's film opens in Paris, 1913 as the cultured masses gather at the Theatre Des-Champs Elysee for the premier performance of Russian composer Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. But those gathered are not amused, some displaying their displeasure by booing, others by simply leaving.
And if I'd have known what I was in for over the next two hours, and not bound by a sense of professional courtesy, I might have done one, or both, myself.
Also in the Elysee audience that night is budding fashion designer, Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel (Anna Magloulis). Despite the crowd's reaction, she seems to appreciate a fellow boundary pushing artist. The pair aren't introduced until 1920 but that fateful meeting sets the wheels in motion for an affair; carried out in Chanel's stately home, where she has invited Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) to come and compose, and under the nose of the Russian's wife (and their four children), who has also come along, convalescing from an undisclosed illness.
Despite the affair, and a couple of explicit sex scenes, there's very little heat or passion generated between Magloulis and Mikkelsen (better known to Australian audiences as the bleeding-eyed villain from 2005's Casino Royale). Nor does the unusual situation the characters find themselves in, or Chanel's creation of her signature perfume, No.5, at the same time, create any great intrigue.
Kounen, working from a screenplay based on a novel by Chris Greenhalgh, has managed to get the period details right, particularly the very distinct style of Coco Chanel, but forgotten to invest his characters with any human warmth. As such, the film moves at such a torpor so as to make any of Merchant-Ivory's oeuvre seem positively hyperactive.
The film ends when the affair does, with Stravinsky making a triumphant return to the Theatre Des Champs-Elysee and receiving a standing ovation. Me, I'm sticking with the reaction of that first audience at the beginning of the film.