(*homocinematically inclined)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Reverend's Reviews: Cuckoo for Coco & Igor

Igor Stravinsky's symphony "The Rite of Spring" is best known to moviegoers of my generation as the soundtrack to the dinosaur section of Walt Disney's Fantasia. I was unaware of how groundbreaking the work's premiere staging was in 1913 Paris. At the time, it was dubbed "scandalous" by many who were unprepared for Stravinsky's melding of non-melodic, frequently dissonant orchestrations and pagan-inspired dance rhythms.

The intelligent, sensual new biopic Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (out today from Sony Pictures Classics) opens with a reconstruction of this fabled event, which Coco Chanel attended, and continues to recount the similarly scandalous relationship that developed between the famed fashion designer and the composer. Interestingly but unintentionally, since they were made by different filmmakers, the new movie picks up right where last year's Coco Before Chanel left off.

By 1920, "The Rite of Spring" was widely acclaimed as a masterpiece but Stravinsky was having difficulty writing anything new. He was introduced to the wealthy Chanel at a party and she offered her financial support. Soon, Chanel and the married Stravinsky were engaged in a brief but passionate affair right under the nose of his family in one of Chanel's chateaus.

A bulked-up Mads Mikkelsen (who was the sadistic LeChiffre in the Bond flick Casino Royale) plays Stravinsky, while French actress Anna Mouglalis incarnates Chanel. While the chilly Mouglalis doesn't make as much of an impression as Audrey Tautou did in Coco Before Chanel, Mikkelsen's performance is mesmerizing. His is a largely silent performance, but when he speaks it reveals much about Stravinsky's egocentric struggles with faith ("God tests those He loves the most") and his increasingly superior attitude toward his lover ("You're not an artist, Coco, you're a shopkeeper").

The enthusiastic sex scenes in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky are some of the more graphic in recent memory. Also featured in the film are the gay dancer-choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky — who staged the initial, controversial performance of "The Rite of Spring" — and his patron/lover, Sergei Diaghilev (an amusing turn by Grigori Manoukov). In one scene, Diaghilev is shown interviewing a potential new male secretary, who is required to be in the nude.

Directed by Jan Kounen from a screenplay by Chris Greenhalgh (who also wrote the source novel), the filmmakers' attention to even the most minute period detail is impressive. From its hallucinogenic opening titles to Chanel's obsessive quest to create the perfect perfume (which would become Chanel No. 5), Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is an engrossing portrait of two gifted but flawed legends in love.

Reverend's Rating: B+

UPDATE: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

1 comment:

  1. Great review, and AWESOME headline! Ireally want to see this now.