Thursday, June 10, 2010

Coco again -- this time with Igor and directed by a Dutchman

From the kaleidoscopic credits sequence -- gorgeous but approaching the headache-inducing -- it's clear that we're in for some visual splendor. And Netherlands-
born adapter (of Chris Greenhalgh's novel) and director Jan Kounen (shown just below) certainly delivers on that promise: COCO CHANEL AND IGOR STRAVINSKY is perhaps the most beautiful film of the year -- maybe several -- in terms of art direction, costumes and sets (including wallpaper and props). TrustMovies is not being facetious: There is a lot be said for sheer beauty and taste regarding surroundings, particularly when all this is captured as stunningly as it is here (the widescreen cinematography is by David Ungaro).

If this were all the movie had to offer, it would still be enough for me to spend a couple of hours in its company and then watch it again eventually via DVD (and on Blu-Ray, one hopes).  But there's actually a good deal more.  Coco & Igor (let's reduce that title a bit) provides smart entertainment in a number of ways, while making a fine companion piece to the Anne Fontaine version, Coco Before Chanel, which we saw last year, and which gave us Coco's childhood & early adult years.

Kounen's movie begins almost where Fontaine's ends (if you leave out that fashion-show finale) -- with a sexual tryst between Chanel (the lovely Anna Mouglalis -- above, center -- who, despite her beauty, looks even more like the actual Chanel than did Audrey Tautou) and "Boy Capel," once the latter has set her up in business, and immediately prior to his auto accident. Capel is played by Anatole Taubman, whom we see little of  but enough to know that the actor is a similar physical type to Mads Mikkelsen (who plays Igor), indicating that Coco has a preference for lean, dark, pale-skinned men.  Then, off goes Chanel to the premiere of  Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring.

For my entire life since early adolescence I have heard about this legendary performance, always thinking, "What?!  It caused a riot in the theater?  What could that have been like?"  Well, now we know -- because Kounen and his crew bring it (see above and below) to wonderful, in-the-moment life: the music, the dance (Nijinsky and Diaghilev!), the audience, its response, the whole shebang. This provides the film with its dont'-miss first 20 minutes.

Once the Coco/Igor romance gets started, the movie hits a number of other high notes, too.  Interestingly, there is surprisingly little dialog throughout. In fact, this may be the first big-budget movie I've seen with so little verbiage to accompany its visuals. (A compatriot suggested to me that the director may not be so fluent in English -- which is the major language here -- and, though both can speak it, neither of its two stars might be that conversant in its subtleties.)  Consequently the movie is practically all situation -- activity and visuals -- as though this would be enough to ensure its success.  It is.

There are a few choice verbal moments here: When Igor and family arrive, invited, at Chanel's estate and have a look around to discover that practically everything is black-and-white (see above), "You don't like color, Mademoiselle Chanel? asks Madame Stravinsky. "As long as it's black," Coco replies.  Along the way, between bouts of sex and remorse, we get to know Igor's wife Katia (played by the fine Elena Morozova), are privy to the creation of a certain now-famous perfume, and see Stravinsky labor to improve his "Rite."

By the finale, which of course is expected, we're left with an age-old rule that strikes me, at least, as quite similar to the one my high school and college gym coaches kept trying to get us guys -- who were understandably reluctant -- to live by: You're going to play the sport (or, in this case, compose the music) much better if you'll just abstain from sex until after the game (in this case, the performance).  After her initial seduction, Mouglalis makes a surprising, if effective, coach (this woman's in love with "control") and Mikkelsen her reluctant, frustrated player.  Her ploy works.
So does the movie.

Distributed in the U.S. via the indispensable Sony Pictures Classics, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinksy opens Friday, June 11, in NYC (at the Paris and Angelika) and in Los Angeles (at the Royal).  Further release dates, cities and theaters can be found here.

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