"You're just a shopkeeper."

Coco Chanel and Igor Strvinski

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Most of us tend to think of Coco Chanel as the last actress who portrayed her in the movies. The most recent of these was Audrey Tautou a year or so ago. Tautou struck a marvelous balance between Chanel's driving ambition and her admiration of simplicity and elegance. In that movie, Chanel became a strong, but delicate presence as we followed her progress from poverty to early success.

            In "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinski" we meet the designer, played here by Anna Mouglalis, at the top of her game when she is anything but delicate. As the movie opens, she is sitting in the audience for the opening of Igor Stravinski's "Rite of Spring" the dissonant music that caused, along with Najinski's choreography, a riot of anger in the theater, the streets, and the newspapers of Paris in 1913.

            As Chanel listens in calm self-confidence through the concert and the ensuing riot, we understand quickly that she will become his champion. She offers the use of her villa to Stravinski and his family - a magnificent country house where the children can play and Stravinski can compose. When the couple begins their affair nearly under the eyes of Mrs. Stravinski (Elena Morozova), we see a couple surrendering to lust, each wrapped in a monumental and creative ego.

            Can you imagine what happens when the woman who has been dealing with her lover as his creative equal hears him say, in the heat of argument, "You're just a shopkeeper." This to the woman who quite literally liberated women from the corsets and yards of cloth that had imprisoned them for generations. Do anything, but don't dare to criticize his music or her empire.

            The problem with this movie is that there is very little dialogue, and that means it must move slowly through its length, depending as it does on long pauses, knowing glances, and plenty of time for severe emotional reactions on everyone's part. Essential momentum is sacrificed. It's slow, in other words, and the principals are not the nicest of people. The opening scenes of Stravinski's music are marvelous as are the ones of his composing in the villa. What's missing here is more evidence of Chanel's creative genius that could have balanced Stravinski's ego.

            Elena Morozova is really marvelous as Catherine Stravinski. She handles her husband's on site betrayal by sitting back, waiting for the whole thing to pass. She never overplays her character's emotions and understands that Catherine's only determination is that Chanel not tamper with Stravinski's music. It's a heartbreaker of a position. Of the three, she is the only admirable, likable person. The two creative geniuses she is involved with are unappealing human beings. We should credit Mads Mikkelsen and Anna Mouglalis for creating two towering 20th century figures. If we can't warm to them as they are portrayed in this movie, we can certainly admire what each of them did.



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