7/10
You can't buy love or art
14 February 2011
According to some historians, the couturier Coco Chanel and the modernist composer Igor Stravinsky had a brief affair in the early 1920s. Stravinsky was married with a family while Coco was unattached. According to the scriptwriters their paths had crossed before, in 1913, when the "The Rite of Spring" a ballet by Diaghilev with music by Stravinsky opened in Paris, causing such a commotion that the police were called. Coco was one of the audience who liked the piece. Seven or so years later she invited Stravinsky and his family to live in her elegant suburban villa. Stravinsky's wife Katerina was suffering from TB. It's not long before he and Coco are making passionate love and not long after that the rest of the household twigs to what is going on. The affair does not last long though it impels Stravinsky to the completion of one of his major works. To him, charming and successful as she is, Coco is not an artist, merely a shopkeeper, and he does not dissent when Katerina points out Coco buys people.

Coco went on to make a fortune out of perfume as well as clothes and Stravinsky became a major 20th century composer. She seems to have gotten over Stravinsky fairly quickly and indeed continued to support (anonymously) his work. Stravinsky on the other hand seems to have been shaken to the core. He did, after all, have something to lose, whereas Coco was a free agent.

This production is all that you would expect from a European director – it is all beautifully framed and shot – Coco's own designs are much in evidence – and the story proceeds at a stately pace. As Stravinsky, Mads Mikkelsen, best known as a Bond villain in Casino Royale, is every inch the uptight Russian composer, while Anna Mougladis is rather enigmatic as Coco. She likes the music and likes to support artists, but just why she takes a liking to Stravinsky is not evident, unless you accept Katerina's view that she likes to buy pretty people as well as things. Here the film makers have given us a film of beauty, but one which does not explain itself. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, we can all work out our own scenarios, but aesthetic considerations seldom amount to the full story.
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