The possibility of an affair between fashion designer Coco Chanel and Russian composer Igor Stravinsky,1920, inspires this hothouse rhapsody from director Jan Kounen, based on the novel by Chris Greenhalgh. The era is irresistible, a period of astonishing artistic, political and cultural ferment. The personalities are fascinating (the designer who freed women from corsets; the composer who invented a new musical language). The project is redolent with possibilities, but few are realized in this artfully posed but static and disappointing film. It begins well at the 1913 Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” recreated in lavish detail (the corps de ballet in animal skins and tribal costumes; Nijinsky’s ecstatic choreography to Stravinsky’s relentless rhythms), followed by the famous rioting of the scandalized audience. Jump to 1920: with Paris full of Russian expats after the Revolution, Chanel (Anna Mouglalis), head of her own elegant Paris fashion house, moves Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) and his enormous family to her severely chic black-and-white country house in the South of France so he can work.
Coco and Igor’s mutual simmering finally erupts into acrobatic sex, accompanied by long passages of his dramatic music, and the fretting of his sweet, un-chic, tubercular Russian wife, Katia (Elena Morozova, done up like a Renaissance madonna with a high white forehead, red hair, and no eyebrows). That’s about it for plot. Genius is not a spectator sport, especially in ho-hum scenes of Igor brooding over his piano, reworking riffs from “Rite.” (You’d think he never composed anything else.) In one refreshing interlude, Coco visits a perfumer (his workers knee-deep in flower petals) to incubate her new scent, Chanel No. 5, but the viewer longs for more scenes of Coco at work. (When Katia gives her a Russian peasant dress to transform, or Coco signs on to design costumes for a new production of “Rite,” we never get to see the results.) Worse, the filmmakers assume that all creativity springs from illicit passion with an artist of equal or greater celebrity; they never acknowledge any other possible influence on these two wildly creative and innovative artists than each other (a dubious point made no more convincing in the abrupt, perplexing coda). All this makes for a claustrophobic, rather morose romance in a highly decorative setting that might have been so much more. (R) 120 minutes. In French and Russian with English subtitles. ★★ Watch film trailer >>>