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Coco & Igor

"Coco & Igor" | a film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

The early 20th Century fashion of Coco Chanel and the music of Igor Stravinsky are sparse and simple, yet always complex and strikingly unconventional. That's why the artistic output of these one-time, short-time lovers is now considered iconically classic.

To call the new film, "Coco & Igor" as such is for others to coin. However, after fetchingly tasty opening credits that are graphically an artistic slam dunk, be ready for about 20 minutes of a first-rate depiction of the infamous 1913 riot that occurred in Théâtre des Champs-Élysées during the premiere of Stavinsky's score set to the Ballets Russes performance of Sergei Diagalev's choreography for "Le Sacre du Printemps" ("The Rite of Spring"). Talk about high-dollar!

So yes. I will venture to say that about this motion picture by Dutch director, Jan Kounen, who moves his film forward quite deliberately, but never did I detect his doing so, slowly.

(It must be inserted at this juncture, however, that Mr. Kounen once directed a 1994 French short with a catchier title. Would you believe, "Vibroboy?")

To assure you it's 1913, the first music heard on the "Coco & Igor" soundtrack is a James V. Monaco/Joseph McCarthy song (in English) called, "You Made Me Love You." All notes regarding McCarthy (the lyricist) indicate that he shouldn't be confused with a former U.S. senator from Wisconsin.

Coco (Anna Mouglalis) is readying herself for the "Rite" ballet as her lover and a fashion funder, Arthur "Boy" Capel (Anatole Taubman) has made other plans and can't accompany her to an event that will make music history. It's when and where she first lays eyes on Igor (Mads Mikkelsen, "After the Wedding")---in the audience with his pregnant wife Katarina (Yelena Morozova).

Anyone who knows but a bit about 20th Century music will say the great, initial performance of "The Rite of Spring" wasn't exactly well-received, even for liberal, loose and gay Paris, as it was then slightly less than a hundred years ago. To put it more gently, the event had more in common with a contemporary performance that might be given by the Swedish death metal band, "Bloodbath" which boasts a neat album titled, "Nightmares Made Flesh."

Well, maybe not that severe, but the gendarmes did show up and everyone at the bash was pretty pissed at Stravinsky's musical audacity. The choreography was pretty weird for 1913, too. Tchiakovsky, begone!

Of course, Coco was hip to the scene. It may have been the only time she was actually in the thrall of the great Stravinsky, as you'll see as more of the story (from Chris Greenhalgh's novel and script) unfolds.

Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel was a patron of the arts besides knowing how to make a woman look cool even in the WWI era. Katarina asks Coco, "Don't you like color?" Coco replies, "So long as it's black. And a gentlemen admirer of M. Chanel's remarks early in the film that, "Coco even makes grief chic."

Her intelligence and overwhelming confidence make it easy for her to offer up the comfort of her palatial home for Stravinsky, his wife and their four children. Having gone through a rough patch back in the old country, Igor swiftly acquiesces to Coco's cool, but most generous invitation for sanctuary from his detractors to create part of his music that, to this day, continues to be programmed in concert halls and on broadcasts around the world.

A short list of some heard in the film: "The Rite of Spring," "Symphonies of Wind Instruments" (a piece I programmed on FM as much as I could get away with), "Sonate" and "Les cinq doigts" one of which Igor and Coco "chopstick" on her Steinway.

As the magnetism increases between the two egocentric artists, you'll see that the pair doesn't just play the piano when seated on the piano bench. Description of that scene and others in more appropriate venues for such activity will not be discussed further, only to say, all are exquisitely staged, shot and edited. Mikkelsen portrays Stravinsky as a reticent figure in social circles, in these moments of intimacy, as cumbersome. "C & I" is rated R.

Most of the contemporary music composed for the picture by Gabriel Yared is solid film score fare, as well. There is one Yared passage, though, that’s heard in the English-version trailer, unfortunately, that gets more than a little sudsy. (The trailer here is the French-version.) Moreover, the English-version trailer itself, for me, doesn’t accurately reflect that "Coco & Igor" is as good a movie as I saw the whole to be.

As the Stravinskys' welcome seems to be wearing thin, so does the furtive affair between the principals. More pointedly, Katarina, who understands Stravinsky better than he---knows. Even though she's consumptive, Katarina is a real trouper with all of it.

Acting turns are top-flight. All three---Mouglalis, Mikkelsen and Morzova---keep one well-focused.

But, on with the story: the camel's back is fractured, completely, during a heated Coco/Igor back-and-forth regarding artistic effort. Mikkelsen, usually playing Igor taciturnly, bellows at Coco, "I'm an artist, you're a shopkeeper." Can you imagine anyone telling Coco Chanel that she's a shopkeeper? Even one of the truest icons of 20th Century music can't get away with talking that kind of trash, in French or Russian. (What with sparse dialogue, subtitles are easily read.)

Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky

Fiction is at play in this lucid historical imaging by Kounen and Greenhalgh. There is that which some in our time want to superimpose on what happened during this love affair of only a few months, but which most agree brought more passion to Stravinsky's powerful music while Coco worked with her chemist in the redolence of selecting the famous and still so marketable Number Five. Needless to say, there will be those who'll believe poppycock is afoot mostly in the film. But look for some who also will fold the conclusions made for "Coco & Igor" into themselves to remember another day.

Warning: Don't quit the film as the end credits begin. The same fascinating graphic art is used that's shown at the open... then a short visual coda follows, important to the first scene showing Coco dressing then leaving for the riotous "Le Sacre du Printemps" performance. Stay for the final flourish. It's shot in Coco's favorite "colors"-----black and white.

"Coco & Igor" official site.

Opens wide Friday, 6/25.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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