Monday, 29 November 2010

Film Review: Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Directed by: Jan Kounen
Produced by: Chris Colzli, Claudie Ossard, Veronika Zonabend
Written by: Carlo de Boutiny, Jan Kounen
Based on Chris Greenhlagh’s Coco and Igor.
Starrring: Anna Mouglalis and Mads Mikkelsen
Music by: Gabriel Yared.

It is difficult to watch the opening scene of Jan Kounen’s Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky without wondering whether our society has not digressed somewhat into an epoch of cultural banality, vulgarity and simplicity. A concert hall is filling up with an expectant audience that has come to see a ballet written by the bizarre, some might say revolutionary, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. A choreographer is coaching a dancer on how to elicit the agony of the character she portrays. The troop manager is imploring him to calm down. The composer kisses his wife who wishes him luck. He wonders from the back stage enclosure to the viewing area. He takes his seat.

The conductor tells his orchestra to forget rhythm and play to the melody; to forget the German and Russian masters: Wagner and Tchaikovsky; to forget everything they know. He assumes the mantle from where he will direct the musical score written for the ballet, as Stravinsky and Coco Chanel, unaware of each other’s presence in the hall, watch on. The music, which is nothing short of epic, shocks the crowed immediately, and the dancing is tolerated even less. The crowed are stirred into a frenzy of insults, jeers and violent attacks at the Russian touring company. Amidst the mounting chaos Stravinsky visibly shaken and dismayed leaves his seat. Chanel keeps watching calmly and with deep interest. Eventually they become lovers in a complex and emotionally loaded affair.

In a scene worthy of serious study, the director transports the viewer to a time that he or she has virtually no knowledge of, unless the viewer knows something of life in Paris circa 1913. Our culture’s quick consumption of small chunks of information, it’s dependence on constant stimulation, it’s thirst for variety and de-familiarization, leaves it lacking in the face of a society that would in time lay the foundations of life in the present. The genius of both Stravinsky and Chanel would in time come to influence Western music and World fashion to such an extent that it is hard to imagine our lives without their influence.

But, since I have rather critically remarked on our society’s descent into a world-wide cultural wasteland, one is left to wonder whether the lives of Stravinsky and Chanel aren’t part of the problem? This is a question the reader will have to answer for themselves. Nevertheless, through tracing the influence of these genius lovers we are bound to discover a slow erosion of creative integrity and noble genius. I leave it to the reader/viewer to decide whether life as it is, is not an embarrassment, for it is plain to see that in times past society functioned and thrived on high art, and not the quick satisfaction of multiple needs and desires, which something like Twilight and Iron Man serves solely to do. Kounen’s Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky is a film biopic that requires multiple viewings to appreciate the cultural density of a love story that is both remarkable and timely.


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