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The Moderns

A legendary fashion designer and influential composer explore the rite of flings

Anna Mouglalis has designs on Mads Mikkelsen.

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

Studio:Eurowide Film Production
Director:Jan Kounen
Cast:Anna Mouglalis, Mads Mikkelsen, Elena Morozova, Natacha Lindinger, Grigori Manoukov, Rasha Bukvic, Nicolas Vaude, Anatole Taubman
Release Date:2010
Genre:Drama, Romance, Historical

Opens July 23 at the Charles Theatre

By Wendy Ward | Posted 7/21/2010

The audience practically rioted during the virgin performance of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring in a Parisian opera house in 1913. The Russian composer knew he was taking a chance with the modern orchestration and foreign rhythms--along with the tribal dancers choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and costumed in Russian peasant patterns and wigs--but the behavior of the cultural elite was soul shattering. Clothing designer Coco Chanel was at least one audience member who, rather than angry or scandalized by Rite's raw energy, was intrigued. Having spent her career up until that point pushing modernity through the lines on her dresses and the shape of her hats, she knew about taking a risk.

The gorgeous Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky--directed by Jan Kounen and adapted from the novel by Chris Greenhalgh, Coco and Igor, which was based on true events--opens with this failed performance. Seven years later, the two meet in the middle of a spirited party alive with piano pounding and bare breasts. Coco (Anna Mouglalis) is grieving the loss of her lover Arthur "Boy" Capel. Igor (Mads Mikkelsen) is now a starving artist who lives in a tiny apartment with his four young children and wife Katarina (Yelena Morozova ), who is sick with consumption. There's a mutual interest between these two very contained artists, and Coco gives him her card. He brings her flowers when they meet up days later, but it's hard to tell what he was looking for by calling on her--she even asks when he at first refuses her help--but he finally accepts her offer: a place to work and live with his family at her country villa outside of Paris.

The children delight in the Chinese and Mongolian rooms' decor of imported treasures, and Katarina works from bed cleaning up her husband's sheet music while Igor plays music that fills the house. While rarely in the house, Coco spends her time there with Igor, learning to play piano and discussing their work. Ultimately, Coco is a business woman whose personal life remains personal, and social mores and the feelings of others aren't accounted for. She isn't worried about hurting the feelings of her seamstresses and shop girls and stands by her decisions completely.

So it's not an act of moral ambiguity for her to walk into Igor's workspace and unlatch the one button on her stunning beaded white column of a dress; she is as void of morals as she is of undergarments. His adultery comes from a place of failure and division: He is brilliant and unsuccessful, he is worn down and erect, he is a loving father, husband, and lover. Modern, indeed.

The music he plays is so stirring that you can't believe Stravinsky ever lacked for fans, and the movie's score often suddenly stops, adding to the drama unfolding with only the sound of breathing and real life. Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles permeate every scene, and the beautifully draped Chanel clothing make this movie visually rich. Sparse only in joy, Kounen's scenes are composed like a painting: sun comes through the trees on a countryside trail as Igor's walk gets interrupted by Coco on horseback; black-and-white-patterned wallpaper hangs with beveled mirrors in which you can see the rest of the black and white room and a vase of flowers. Lavishly clean lines and little color define the House of Chanel, and her home and wardrobe reflect that taste.

Coco's passion is barely visible on the surface, and it is startling when she is physical in any way beyond leaning back into her long stride with hands lightly in pockets or leaning toward her dress dummy with tailor's scissors. It seems you don't see her eyes as she spins around to a child's song or writhes beneath Igor, as if that energy is hers and hers alone. Mouglalis is almost cheerless in her role--who says Chanel was cheerful?--but the elegance is all there. Plus, Mouglalis is a good match for Mikkelsen, who wears Igor's healthful habits of exercise and raw eggs for breakfast very well. And when the movie ends, it is with another performance, another gown of perfection, and another audience reaction.

E-mail Wendy Ward

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