Apparently the stunning innovations that Coco Chanel made in the fashion world and her rise as an independent businesswoman in the early 20th century are unworthy subjects for movies, but her pedestrian love affairs have been fodder for two dull period dramas in as many years. After last year’s Coco Before Chanel, from French filmmaker Anne Fontaine, comes Jan Kounen’s Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, which tackles a later period in Chanel’s life but similarly reduces her to the sum of her sexual escapades.
In this case the movie is interested in the sex lives of two famous artists, adding composer Stravinsky to the mix. Chanel (Ann Mouglalis) first encounters Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) when she attends the famously disastrous premiere of his polarizing ballet The Rite of Spring, a sequence that Kounen stages expertly, showing long, uninterrupted stretches of the performance as a way of building the same kind of tension that the shocked audience felt at the time.
Rite has little to do with the actual core of the story, though, which takes place seven years later when Chanel invites Stravinsky, along with his wife and children, to stay at her estate while he works on his latest piece. The two are immediately drawn to each other, although they express their desire almost exclusively via staring, and Kounen takes half the movie before getting the two in bed together. While their chemistry may be inexplicable, that’s no excuse for the lack of insight into Chanel and Stravinsky as people, and the minimal dialogue offers little in the way of character development.
Kounen has a wonderful eye for detail, and his preference for long tracking shots gives the movie a bit of visual grandeur to offset its too-mundane plot. But periodic detours into the development of Chanel’s signature perfume and Stravinsky’s music fail to demonstrate what made them great artists and not just two boring people moping around and having a brief affair. Chanel and Stravinsky did some bold, fascinating things in their lives, but this movie proves that sleeping together a handful of times was not among them.