Saturday, 2 October 2010
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009) dir. Jan Kounen
Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Anna Mouglalis, Elena Morozova, Grigori Manoukov and Anatole Taubman
By Greg Klymkiw
You know a movie about the affair between Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel is going to be as entertaining as anal fissures when the camera glides along lugubriously for no rhyme nor reason save for the pretension of its director as characters stare endlessly at each other or at nobody or nothing in particular and worst of all, when the opening set piece - an attempt to recreate the disastrous premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps is presented with all the "style" of those dull performing arts TV specials so popular in the late 80s and early 90s.
While it would be unfair to slog the rich production design and often gorgeously lit cinematography, it's as staid and overtly arty as most everything else in this movie. The picture is often gorgeous, but to what end? The drama is so mute and dull, the performances so sub-Masterpiece Theatre, the screenplay so bereft of any true passion or conflict, that the picture is little more than a foreign language Merchant-Ivory costumer (sans the occasionally trashy/arty Merchant-Ivory aesthetic).
So what do we get? A largely passion-free ill-fated romance between Coco and Igor. Coco, still pining for her dead lover Arthur "Boy" Capel, attends the premiere of Stravinsky's work. In spite of the jeers of derision from all the snooty French people in the audience, she recognizes in Stravinsky's work the same sort of commitment to expanding the boundaries of music as she is endowed with expanding in the world of fashion and perfume. Given, however, director Kounen's middle-of-the-road rendering of the ballet is, one wonders why she doesn't join the rioting Gallic upper crust types. But no, instead she offers Stravinsky and his family a safe haven in her country mansion and her patronage.
This is followed by much staring and a plethora of unmotivated camera moves.
Almost one hour into the movie, we get our first sex scene between Coco and Igor. And what a doozy! It's about as sexy as one of those unmotivated camera moves. Watching it, I longed for an episode of Red Shoe Diaries, but sooner than you can say "cum shot", Kounen cuts out of the dishwater dull gymnastics on the rug and gives us some nice shots of foliage.
Speaking of Red Shoes (minus the "Diaries" part), any movie that features ballet needs to include dance sequences that at least match if not better the great Powell-Pressburger classic The Red Shoes. If not, it's best to just forget it. Emulation of performing arts specials on television just doesn't cut it. Darren Aronofsky knew this all to well - hence, the brilliant Black Swan.
And if you're going to ask your actors to strip down and pretend to have sex, you kind of need to shoot them with some panache.
The second coital snore-fest is bookended with endless shots of Stravinsky's wife looking dour and more unmotivated camera moves, and worse yet, some incredibly hopeless still-life shots of, well, not much of anything really. A few dull conversation scenes about, not much of anything follow and Coco is off on a business trip, leaving Igor in her mansion alone with his wife and family. This, happily, gives us an opportunity to watch Igor play chess with his son, followed by a snail-paced conversation between Igor and his wife where she finally reveals, "I feel like I don't know you anymore." Seeking something even more scintillating, helmer Kounen takes us back to Coco as she spends an eternity sniffing perfumes in her lab and finally, she hits pay dirt and discovers Chanel No. 5 - certainly reason enough to celebrate and return to her country home for another dull round of sex with Igor.
At approximately 75 minutes into the picture, Coco offers Igor's wife some free perfume while Igor plays croquet with the kids. A ridiculous conversation ensues between the two ladies where wifey begs Coco not to interfere with Igor's music. This leads to wifey telling Igor she smells the decay of her own insides as if she were dead. Yup, that sure would make any man's schwance rise to the occasion. Igor and wifey stare at each other and we cut to another boring sex scene twixt Coco and Igor and more unmotivated camera moves and skewed angles during pillow talk.
When Coco makes another trip away from home we are treated to shots of Igor lying on the ground, walking around and wifey sitting forlornly on a swing.
Do I need to go on?
I thought not.
However, indulge me.
We get a dull dinner scene with Diaghlev and Nijinsky. It's actually quite a feat making a dinner party with those two light-in-the-loafers funsters boring. My hat off to our helmer.
After what seems an eternity, Igor's wife and family finally leave so Igor can romp about in Coco's love nest all by his lonesome. Coco reads a letter from wifey and Kounen brilliantly reveals an imaginary wifey behind Coco's back whispering her contemptuous thoughts into her ear. Gee whiz! I cant say I've seen that before.
Soon enough, Igor begins writing music furiously, but when he needs to saw off a piece of Coco ass, she rebuffs him. He goes back to his music, composes a masterpiece, drinks himself into a stupor and Coco loads him into a bathtub without offering even a hand job. Scintillatingly, we get to see Igor lying in the bath alone for quite some time.
Eventually, Chanel No. 5 becomes popular and Igor achieves the fame he deserves.
Both become old.
Alone and adorned with bad, heavily applied makeup to remind us they are old, 'tis only the memories of their passionless affair that keeps them going, no doubt, to their respective deaths.
And what of me? Or you, the audience?
We are left only with the feeling that we've lost 120 precious minutes of our lives watching pretentious art house drivel.
It's a wonderful life, mais non? Yeah sure! Pass me a bottle of Chanel No. 5 so I can chug it back and drown out my sorrow.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment