The better Coco
Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky
Have we already talked about the previous Coco film? with Audrey “Amelie” Tautou, who is of course delectable in everything she does. And to be fair she did a pretty good job in that biopic of Chanel’s early days (Coco Avant Chanel). This latest film effectively starts where the other left off, which is ideal for avoiding any potentially unfavourable comparisons or box-office trouncings (à la Capote and Infamous – although they were both excellent films – though sadly the same cannot be said perhaps for the ill-fated Valmont vs Dangerous Liaisons dance-off…)
Anyway. This is the true account of a passionate affair between Chanel, by then an independent, successful career woman grieving the loss of her long-time lover, and the taciturn Russian composer Igor Stravinsky who was gradually finding acclaim in Paris. Set in the 1920s and ’30s, it’s an exquisite piece in aesthetic terms with its swooping, long-held tracking shots, the sumptuous scoring (much of it, naturally, Stravinsky’s own music which I appreciated much more in the film than I ever have in real life), and needless to say the costuming and historically accurate art deco styling is faultless. You also get the particular pleasure of watching classics of 20th century fashion iconography come into being, for example the birth of the Chanel No. 5 parfum.
Mads Mikkelsen, the wonderful Danish actor from After the Wedding and Casino Royale, appears to be pretty proficient in Russian and French, though playing an intense, brooding character relieved him from having to “perform” much (though his piano playing is convincing enough). However, this new Coco, French actress Anna Mouglalis, is in my opinion a more convincing Chanel than Tautou – she wears the proud, fierce eyebrows naturalistically rather than as a prop, and tempers the designer’s haughty froideur with just the right degree of warmth, so that you believe the intensity of her passion for the married composer, and can almost forgive her audacity at seducing him under the same roof as his sick wife. By comparison (inevitable I’m afraid), Tautou’s Coco was too mignonne, all chic costumes and whimsy, whereas Mouglalis strides the fine line between tough-as-nails and eminently desirable.
The romantic build-up is well played, perhaps because so little is said and so much left to looks and atmosphere. The pay-off (er, sex scenes) are therefore genuinely erotic. Despite at times battling with the “but what about his nice wife??” issue, I still managed to lose myself in their burgeoning love affair without condemning it. And, to this end, Katarina Stravinsky (played with subtlety and great dignity by Russian actress Yelena Morozova) provides the necessary layers both to the story and the characterisation of all three protagonists. Stravinsky’s obsession with Coco is balanced by his love and need for his wife, and because Katarina is such a sympathetic (yet crucially not pathetic) persona, we too might feel torn were we in his shoes.
Various reviews have blandly described this film as sumptuous but lacking in depth, but I found it to be sufficiently affecting as well as superficially stimulating.