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Paris 1913. Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) is infatuated with the rich and handsome Boy Capel (Anatole Taubman), but she is also compelled by her work. Igor Stravinsky's (Mads Mikkelsen) The Rite of Spring is about to be performed. She attends the scandalous first performance in a chic white dress. The music and ballet are criticized as too modern, too foreign. Coco is moved but Igor is devastated. Paris 1920, Coco is newly wealthy and successful but grief-stricken after Boy's death in a car crash. In the wake of the Russian Revolution Igor is a penniless refugee living in exile in Paris. When Coco is introduced to Igor by Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes, the attraction between them is instant. Coco invites Igor, along with his four children and wife Catherine (Yelena Morozova) who is now sick with consumption to stay at her new villa, Bel Respiro, in Garches.

Review by Louise Keller:
Although there's no matching the beauty of Audrey Tautou in Coco Avant Chanel, this alluring glimpse into the passionate affair of the elegant designer with the dashing Russian composer Igor Stravinsky feels as though it probably captures the essence of Coco's guile and hard-nosed business acumen. The screenplay (from Chris Greenhalgh's novel) concentrates almost exclusively on the illicit relationship; music and fashion provide the context. However, even nudity and sex are designer - passion is ignited on the white carpet or the black and white bedspread of Coco's luxurious villa outside Paris. Ultimately it is all about the casting and Anna Mouglalis (think Rachel Ward / Cate Blanchett fusion) makes a striking Coco to sexy Mads Mikkelsen's Igor who together create a book of beautiful music together.

There is one other intriguing element. Stravinsky's ailing wife Catherine (Yelena Morozova, excellent), who is forced to tolerate the affair, while living under the same roof. But this is no happy ménage a trois. Igor's initial fascination and obsession with Coco prompts the crescendo of fervour to his compositions before their discordant aspect is accentuated as the relationship takes it course and eventually sours.

In a stunning, memorable opening scene, we (like Coco) are there for the premiere of Stravinsky's controversial and outrageous ballet (performed by the Ballet Russes), The Rite of Spring. It is unlike anything anyone has ever seen or heard before. The dancing, the costumes and the music are simply too confronting for an audience used to Swan Lake and who consider the work 'too new and daring'. By the time Coco and Igor are introduced seven years later after the car-accident death of her lover Boy ('she makes even grief seem chic'), their physical attraction is obvious. Coco plays benefactor, inviting the penniless composer and his family to stay, but there are primal urges and she feels no guilt. There are similarities creatively. Neither creates their work on paper: she designs with fabric, he on the piano. While he works with the metronome, she is testing fragrances in the lab in Grasse, discarding those that are too sweet or vinegary, and opting eventually for the famed No 5.

I was intrigued by this fascinating film whose seduction goes far beyond the affair between Coco and Igor. We are seduced by the music, the exquisite production design (influenced by Coco's penchant for black and white) and the beautiful settings. The clothes are fabulous, too. Although the ending does not work at all (director Jan Kounen has made a severe misjudgment here), there is enough substance to the rest of the work to make it a pleasure.

DVD special features include exclusive Australian interview with director Jan Kounen, deleted scenes, making of and theatrical trailer.

Review by Andrew L. Urban :
More or less following on from the timeline of Coco Avant Chanel (2009) released in Australia in June 2009, this is the sketchy, out-of-context story of the affair between the iconic Coco and the iconic Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, by which time Coco was becoming a household name in (well dressed) Paris. Mostly underlit and always unhurried (except for a speed-through of WWI in a meaningless montage), the film rather drags out the melancholy story and doesn't find a satisfying way to end it. But there are still things to enjoy, notably Anna Mouglalis as Coco, a somewhat tougher, more brittle version than Audrey Tautou delivered, aided by a harsher speaking voice and the ability to look more fierce than the sweet Tautou.

Mads Mikkelsen, one of the finest actors around, plays Igor Stravinsky, a challenge on many levels, not the least having to learn dialogue in both French and Russian - while his native tongue is Danish. Mikkelsen makes the most of it, but the screenplay is underwritten in many respects, his role included. Neither Coco nor Igor are shown as characters we would love to be friends with, though.

Yelena Morozova is excellent and touching as Igor's wife Catherine, whose love for him lasts through the shame of an affair under her nose in Coco's mansion. The supports are all fine, although we don't see much of them. The claustrophobic structure and design focus on the Coco and Igor relationship, but it often feels as though director Jan Kounen is striving for some sort of artistic plateau. This results in a minimal emotional connection and a sense of dissatisfaction, even though it's a fascinating story.

The music is not all Stravinsky - although there is enough to provide a good sampling for fans and novices alike - and Gabriel Yared makes a valuable contribution. Still, it's not a truly uplifting experience, and only fitfully engaging.

Published August 18, 2010

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(France, 2009)

CAST: Mads Mikkelsen, Anna Mouglalis, Anatole Taubman, Natacha Lindinger, Yelena Morozova,

PRODUCER: Chris Bolzi, Claudie Ossard

DIRECTOR: Jan Kounen

SCRIPT: Chris Greenhalgh, Jan Kounen (novel by Greenhalgh)


EDITOR: Anny Danche

MUSIC: Gabriel Yared

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Marie-Hélène Sulmoni

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes




SPECIAL FEATURES: Interview with Jan Kounen, deleted scenes, making of, trailer


DVD RELEASE: August 18, 2010

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