Based on the novel that’s based on the rumoured affair between Chanel and the prominent Russian composer 'Chanel & Igor' is about as riveting as watching paint dry.
This superficial sumptuous biopic conveniently begins where that other recent Chanel flick ends, in Paris circa 1913, on the brink of her fame and fortune. Chanel (Mouglalis) happens to catch the premiere performance of Stravinsky’s (Mikkelsen) 'The Rite of Spring', a ballet deemed to be outrageous by the French. The audience’s boisterous reaction is both funny and puzzling, with comments that range from "Go back to Russia!" to "Call a dentist". Chanel’s intrigued but is not introduced to the composer until seven years later, when she is a successful designer and he is a penniless artist with mouths to feed.
Fast forward to 1920, and Chanel is inviting the now impoverished Stravinsky and his family to come stay at her villa outside Paris. Soon a love affair begins, despite the anguish it causes Stravinsky’s sickly wife Kartarina (Morozova). This should be gripping stuff, the story of the affair of two artistic souls - the wild, rule breaking Russian composer and the brilliantly minimalist French arbiter of style. And yet when they come together, they’re just like any other couple tangled up in an affair.
This movie had great potential, but instead director Kounen and screenwriter Greenhalgh too, often settle for giving us a conformist and even dull love triangle: narcissistic career woman, ailing wife and a dutiful man torn between the two. The film however is lacking as much in emotional colour as Coco’s black-and-white wardrobe and décor. In fact, the most interesting character in this drama may be Stavinsky’s wife who as the composer’s greatest supporter and adviser, always leans towards doing what is best for his music rather than their marriage
This tale of two artists pursuing passion without dwelling on social rules is a well-groomed melodrama which quashes any interest by guarding the feelings of those involved. Mikkelsen is the appropriately tormented musician, besotted with the lady of the house. But he’s not a compassionate character. Rather he’s exceptionally self-involved to the point of dismissing his own wife’s suffering. When Kartarina declares her love before departing from the suffocating confines of Coco’s estate, he stares her down - and then closes the door in her face.
However, the production design is flawless. The immaculate art deco style of Chanel’s villa, the light reflecting the various seasons, the costumes and Gabriel Yared’s music amalgamated effortlessly with Stravinsky’s, all contribute to a visual feast. Call it couture cinematography if you will, this film draws in its audience not through its story, but through its look and sound.
Unfortunately, it is very rare that we go to movies for the production values only. With long speechless scenes portraying the mute hoplessness of two people who are far more in love with themselves than each other, perhaps it would be best to return to that 1913 opening night. In order that, we too, may gather some pleasure in chucking a tomato or two.