Jan Kounen’s double-barreled biopic Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky doesn’t start well. For one thing, there’s its book-report title, which seems to promise a rote rehash of its protagonists’ lives without shape or insight. It certainly doesn’t help that the film begins in the most obvious place, with the riotous 1913 première of Stravinsky’s dissonant Rite Of Spring, or that one hapless member of the Ballets Russes is stuck with the line, “Stop it, Nijinsky! Tell him, Diaghilev.” By that point, viewers should be expecting further noteworthy personages to turn up bearing little signs: “Hello, my name Is Ernest Beaux.”
The movie’s saving grace is its performances—two of them, though not the most obvious pair. Clad in razor-cut monochrome with waist-length pearls swinging as she walks, Anna Mouglalis plays Coco Chanel as a living icon, an elemental force who is her own best advertisement. There’s no depth to the characterization, but its contours are as sharp and engrossing as an Art Deco print.
The other standout turn isn’t from Mads Mikkelsen, whose pinched, severe Stravinsky is a caricature of Eastern European repression, but from Elena Morozova as his long-suffering wife. Sallow and tubercular, she swallows hard when Chanel invites her husband to stay in her spare house, an act of patronage that also places him within arm’s reach of another woman. Morozova knows when their affair begins, perhaps even sees it coming before he does, but endures it, partly out of masochism, and partly because it feeds into his work. Stravinsky’s faithful copyist as well as the mother of his four children, she’s the only character in the movie who exists for something other than herself (While Chanel and Stravinsky’s bed sessions are passionate, they aren’t loving.)
In the end, Coco & Igor offers little insight into its titular titans of modernism. There’s little understanding of their individual aesthetics, let alone how they (hypothetically) informed each other. A flash-forward to the end of their lives suggests that the memories of their relationship remained potent long after its brief tenure, but the movie neither proves nor argues that thesis.