In 1920, the lives of two of the last century’s greatest artists intersected. Coco Chanel, the famous designer, befriended the great, revolutionary composer Igor Stravinsky and his family, offering the penniless and homeless musician refuge in her country mansion. There have been rumours that Coco and Igor had an affair at this time. Director Jan Kounen takes this premise and spins it into an intimate and deeply moving portrait of a marriage challenged by a beautiful and famous female benefactor. The movie “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” begins in Paris in 1913. Though Coco is deeply infatuated with the rich and handsome polo player Arthur “Boy” Capel, she attends the landmark performance of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and is instantly fascinated. Hoots, whistles and walkouts mar the work’s premiere, but she is transfixed. Stravinsky’s ballet is a wild and primitive assault on bourgeois taste, a precursor to the chaos about to engulf Europe. Coco recognizes a fellow iconoclast, as her own ideas about women’s fashion are causing a similar sensation. Shortly after the war ends, the two meet again. Coco is now wealthy and successful, but shattered by Boy’s death in a car crash. Igor, who was made an outcast after the tumultuous revolution in his native Russia, is now a destitute refugee living in exile in Paris. Introduced to Igor by the famous Sergeï Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes, Coco invites the composer, his wife and their four children to stay at her new villa, Bel Respiro, in Garches. What ensues is a beautifully judged story about the mutual attraction between two artists, finely balanced by the loyalty and love Stravinsky feels for his wife and family. Despite the charisma exuded by the two monumental personalities, who both redefined their fields, we feel immense sympathy for Stravinsky’s wife as she struggles to maintain her equilibrium amid the sparks that begin to fly around her. Kounen brilliantly places us in the worlds of both Coco, whose mansion serves as a visual expression of her design ideas, and Stravinsky, who doggedly wrestles his musical demons. Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky embraces the brilliance of these two rebels, dissecting the intimacies of their personal lives with an empathy that leaves the viewer reaching for superlatives.
Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky
June 11, 2010