Nobody knows what happened when French fashion pioneer and proto-hipster Coco Chanel invited Russian composer Igor Stravinsky to take residence in her French chalet to craft his masterpiece while she launched Chanel No. 5. If you ask director Jan Kounen, it went something like this: He played piano, they stared at each other intensely, she tailored, they fucked, they stared at each other intensely, they fucked, he played piano, they got mad at each other, he played piano, they fucked, they glowered, they almost fucked…then they died alone.
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (no relation to the recent Coco Before Chanel) starts off triumphantly, though, as Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) debuts his jarring "The Rite of Spring" to a packed house of French music snobs. With camera sweeping through the theater, backstage and into the orchestral pit, the film promises an ambitious examination of conflicted artistry. When the music is received like Marilyn Manson playing a Christian rock festival, a riot ensues, but audience member Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) is captivated. Ten years later, he's a rising star, and the fashionista invites the married composer and his family to stay at her chalet while he develops his next opus.
Cue the brooding and ineffectual love-making. Cut the interest.
After a jolting start, Coco & Igor is confined mostly to the chalet, and the drab nature of the setting—mostly decorated in black-and-white, per Coco's aesthetic—saps the film of all vibrancy. The film perks up when Coco travels to a perfumery to create her trademark scent, and for a moment the claustrophobic chalet is abandoned for kaleidoscopic images of roses and a laboratory full of colorful ingredients. But color is soon abandoned for more depressed artists and shots of bushes fluttering in the breeze that symbolize nothing but are somehow more interesting than watching Mikkelsen endlessly writing sheet music.
Coco & Igor centers on sensory stimulation: the sounds of Stravinsky's revolutionary music (which, thankfully, plays throughout the film), the olfactory explosion of a newly discovered scent and the touch of soft fabric and warm flesh. Yet Kounen's film suffers from sensory depravation, and nothing tantalizes, not even the ample sexuality. Coco & Igor succeeds in being as cold and conceited as its subjects—and just as unlikable. R.
Opens Friday at Fox Tower.