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Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Chanel No. 2

Rating: 2.5 out 5 stars.

Jan Kounen’s (99 francs) adaptation of English poet/writer Chris Greenhalgh’s novel, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, is the second film in less than a year to focus on fashion designer Coco Chanel’s personal life.

The first, Coco Before Chanel, starred Audrey Tatou as Chanel. Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky follows Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) during what’s meant to be a short-lived, romantic affair that seemed to have little significance for either Chanel or Stravinsky either personally or professionally. Impeccable period detail and impressive cinematography, make Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky barely watchable.

Greenhalgh’s adaptation of his novel opens in 1913, Paris, as Stravinsky prepares for the premiere of his ballet, Le sacre du printemps (The Rites of Spring), with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky under the direction of impresario Sergey Diagilev Grigori Manukov). A fascinated Chanel watches as the audience becomes increasingly irritated and annoyed by Stravinsky’s rhythmic, dissonant score and Nijinsky’s stylized choreography. Le sacre du printemps is too radical, too foreign for their middle-class ears and eyes and they respond with boos and jeers. A near-riot ends the performance prematurely, leaving Stravinsky bitter and upset, his career a question mark.

The next seven years, including World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution, go by in a flurry of newsreel footage. Stravinsky, a penniless refugee living in Paris, encounters Chanel, still mourning the loss of her lover, Arthur “Boy” Capel (Anatole Taubman). Aware of his impoverished circumstances, Chanel invites Stravinsky and his family to stay at her villa outside Paris.

A prideful Stravinsky reluctantly accepts and brings his wife, Katarina (Yelena Morozova), and four children, Milena (Clara Guelblum), Teodor (Maxime Daniélou), Ludmila (Sophie Hasson), and Sulima (Nikita Ponomarenko), with him to the villa.

Despite a strong opening scene that features energetic, swooping camera shots inside a Paris theater that promise so much and, surprisingly enough, deliver on bringing us every angle — from Stravinsky backstage, to the dancers on stage, the orchestra in the pit, and the increasingly hostile audience — Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky devolves into long static scenes where little of consequence happens.

Once Chanel, cold and domineering toward her employees and slightly warmer toward Stravinsky and his family, seduces a willing Stravinsky into an illicit affair at roughly the one-hour mark, the film literally had nowhere to go.

Pushing for a two-hour running time, Kounen includes four sex scenes in 30 minutes, each one less engaging and more rote than the last. He hints that the relationship, while hurting Stravinsky’s family, especially his long-suffering wife, also spurred Chanel and Stravinsky’s creativity, isn’t particularly convincing. Chanel goes from sleeping with Stravinsky to picking the perfume, “Chanel No. 5,” that would make her synonymous with elegance and class, while Stravinsky works on several compositions, including a revised version of his score for Le sacre du printemps.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky concludes where it began, with another performance of Le sacre du printemps, this time to more positive results for Stravinsky. An ill-conceived coda takes us to Chanel and Stravinsky, both in their eighties (they died in 1971within months of each other) fumbling around a hotel room and apartment, Chanel reminiscing and Stravinsky tinkering on his piano. It’s as maudlin and banal as everything that came before.