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Blu-ray Review: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

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It’s unusual, yet fitting, that in the title of the film, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, Coco’s name is mentioned first. Females are rarely mentioned before males, but this film focuses on the darker side of Coco Chanel where she uses her feminine wiles and, simultaneously, exhibits oft-considered male qualities to seduce and, to an extent, control Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

The film begins in 1913 Paris, during a performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a controversial piece that nearly causes a riot inside the theater. The one person who is mesmerized by the piece is Coco Chanel, played by the stunningly elegant Anna Mouglalis.

Seven years later, after the Russian Revolution, where a grieving Chanel (due to the unexpected death of her lover, referred to merely as “Boy”) encounters a destitute and stoic Stravinsky, portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, struggling to support his family. She offers her villa to him and his family so he can overcome his writer’s block and start composing again. He initially declines, but his wife’s sudden illness forces him to accept Chanel’s offer.

Coco and Igor play it cool for a time, building a sensual rapport with each other at the piano, until she initiates a physical relationship, which he welcomes with ease. The sensuality, however, is lost in the sex, as the sex scenes that are shown are aggressive at best, like two people screwing their pain and frustration away, not truly bonding with each other like it seemed Coco and Igor were apt to do.

Things only escalate from this point, with the wife (Elena Morozova) sensing that her husband and Coco are having an affair, at least an emotional one. But when she asks Coco directly if the two are having sex, Coco unflinchingly and without regret confesses.

So we have to wonder what Coco’s motivation is for inviting the family to her villa. Is she really enamored with Igor, or is it all just to gratify her desire for control and manipulation as an independent woman? And further still, when the affair wanes, does the basic psychology of love (or infatuation) weaken even the greatest of minds such as Chanel and Stravinsky?

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky delivers on a technical level, as well. Smooth, sweeping camera shots across the tops of forests, and similar crane shots above the orchestra and audience in the opening scene stand out as director of photography David Ungaro’s signature style.
After a love scene, Ungaro positions the camera directly over the head of Anna Mouglalis as she lies on her back and alternates back and forth between the vertical shot with a horizontal shot of Mikkelsen sitting across the room as they hold a conversation. The meaning of these shots is elusive but still makes for intriguing cinema.

The audio track is in French (PAR) 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The audio is only coming through the speakers on the television on my home setup, but it still makes for a nice balance between the dialogue and background music. The dialogue is a bit hushed, perhaps for the sake of the music, but considering the film is subtitled, the listening experience isn’t compromised too much.

The video quality is 1080p High-Definition with a 2.35:1 ratio, which makes for vivid images. A wide external shot of the Theatre Des Champs Elysees, for example, simply glows as the camera pans the white and golden architecture from top to bottom. On a basic level, there is a heavy use of shadows in the film, most likely to reinforce the concept of black against white, or good against evil. But this, coupled with bright, concentrated white light glowingly illuminates the lit portions of the actors and actresses in the film.

The sole special feature consists of a making-of the film, which focuses on examining the politics of Coco’s and Igor’s relationship. There are also trailers for the films Please Give, The Secret in Their Eyes, Coco Before Chanel, Micmacs, and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.
Overall, director Jan Kounen has created an artistic and fascinating perspective of love through the minds of a domineering yet sophisticated and physically elegant fashion designer, and a brilliant, if somewhat weak, master composer.

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