Sunday, August 29, 2010

COCO After Chanel

First of all, they sure smoked a lot of cigarettes back then. It was kind of distracting; I kept waiting for someone to get accidentally singed as cigarettes were dangerously hanging loose out of mouths or carelessly dangling between fingers.

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky was a gorgeous film set in the nineteen twenties, after Coco became an established and sought after fashion designer/brand and while Igor Stravinsky was in exile from Russia and not yet appreciated for his striking music compositions.

Based on a rumor, the story begins on an opening night of the Russian Ballet in Paris choreographed no less by Vaslav Nijinsky, to music by Stravinsky. The theatre is aghast at this commanding and aggressive performance in both music and dance. It is a disaster, but Coco sees a kindred spirit for the outre in Stravinsky that attracts her.

Played by Anna Mouglalis, Coco is not classically beautiful, but handsome and elegant. She manages to capture the cool confidence of a woman ahead of her time: powerful and controlling. In fact, very masculine traits dressed up chicly with no care for convention. Her costumes are magnificent.

She sees parallels between herself and Igor (played by Mads Mikkelsen), both radical in their ideas, and some years later invites him with his whole family to come live at her summer villa outside Paris so he can compose. And what a property; as an interior designer, I found myself wishing to have her decorator (there’s a particular duvet cover in one lovemaking scene that I’d die for!) At the height of the Art Deco period, the entire house is glamorously bedecked, one room more luxurious than the next, but it’s hardly a family home. Every room is a variation in black and white with silver or gold accents. When asked by Igor’s wife Katerina, “don’t you like color, Mademoiselle?,” Coco replies, “As long as it is black.”

Who could have thought this was a good idea? Katerina is obviously uneasy with the arrangement, but won’t deny her husband’s chance at patronage. It was inevitable that Coco and Igor would become lovers, two strong creative personalities flirting with this possibility. When she decides that the time is right (because she will control everything), she seduces him with not so much as a first kiss before they strip naked and make love on a thin dhurrie rug in the study he uses as his composing room. Although he may kid himself that he is the man in this relationship, Coco has the upper hand and Igor is ultimately rendered impotent because he is at her whim. She needs such control that she bankrolls the ballet’s season anonymously, insuring that he will have work composing to support his family. You can see the turning point when after enduring their brazen affair, his family leaves and Igor realizes he has lost them for a woman he will never really have.

And what does Coco truly want out of this? She doesn’t need him to leave his wife for her; she can have him right under her nose in the same house. It’s as if she didn’t think it all the way through, toying with the lives of others for selfish pleasure, and she would never be satisfied anyway with a man she could “buy.”

So again, inevitably, they must break up. One could argue that all the passion and drama led to some of Stravinsky’s best compositions, and they are both shown in a collage of future and flashback scenes (great aging makeup) that seems to imply that they never got over each other, but we know that they were both very successful in the end.

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