Coco (Chanel) and Igor (Stravinsky)

Photo of Mads Mikkelsen and Anna Mouglalis on the movie poster for "Coco and Igor."(Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
Photo of Mads Mikkelsen and Anna Mouglalis on the movie poster for "Coco and Igor."(Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

We all love our families, and we all love the holidays but these long weekends can involve a lot of togetherness. Sometimes a detour through movie land on DVD is a nice antidote.

Recently I’ve enjoyed two by Charlie Chaplin: The Kid and The Gold Rush. Then there’s a healthy indie sampling: Savages and The Kids are All Right. And then there’s both indie and multilingual (if you want to impress your friends and neighbors): Coco and Igor.

Igor and Coco

Growing up near the Punic wars (sorry, Mr. Albee) the music history tomes and classes back in the day generally ended with Igor Stravinsky. (This was a long time ago.) Or if they didn’t end with this Russian born world citizen, he was certainly the last major stop. Charles Ives got a nod, but what about Giacomo Puccini? Horrors! If he’s extolled or vilified in the history books (depending who you read) Igor Stravinsky never goes away.

Two incidents in Stravinsky’s long life (from 1882-1971)  are telescoped in the film Coco and Igor. This was directed by Jan Kounen and stars Mad Mikkelson as Stravinsky and Anna Mougalis as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel.

Jan Kounen is a smart director. He knows to hook the audience within the first five minutes, and does so in this film with nothing less than a fiery depiction of the first night of Le Sacre du printemps at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris, May 29, 1913. We see Pierre Monteux adjusting his cravat. There’s a stunning audience — tops hats and long gowns, correct jewelery.

Sergei Diaghilev*, whose production this was,  is seen solemnly crossing himself in the Orthodox way. Vaslav Nijinsky screams at the dancers in Russian; his off stage conducting is drowned out first by the music and then by the ruckus caused by the music. The costumes are early Pocahontas-the-bedazzled and the audience is irate and Stravinsky is hustled out of the theater. It’s the first ten minutes and it’s fun.

A less than convincing love story

In 1920, Chanel offers Stravinsky, his wife, Katerina, and four children a haven in her lovely villa outside of Paris. (We’re led to believe the Russian revolution has impoverished Stravinsky and he needs both emotional succour and a way to house the Mrs. and the children.) Chanel obliges in a stunning black and white home. Katerina, who may have sensed something five minutes after arrival turns to Chanel and says “Don’t you like color, Mademoiselle?”  “Only if  it’s black.”

Inevitably, there’s an affair between couturier and composer. Mme Stravinsky is tubercular and ill. The children gambol joyfully over the sumptuous grounds (the all black and white is only inside) but we see little more of Diaghilev, Monteux and Nijinsky et al.

We do have a couple of steamy sex scenes amid the decor, and a nice parallel is drawn between Stravinsky’s work and Chanel’s development of the perfume that would make her in international sensation. Back in the day if your dad did very well, your mother got Chanel No. 5 for Christmas. “It takes one thousand flower petals to make one drop!” cries Mademoiselle’s chief chemist.

Anna Magoulis is icy but stunning and Mads Mikelssen is a stony faced actor but for a lot of this movie you aren’t looking at his face. The interiors of great theaters, gorgeous villas, Paris a hundred years ago, plus the intriguing teases of Nijinsky and Diaghilev-all add up to a beautiful looking film with a less than convincing love story. Maybe love wasn’t the point.

* Don’t miss a great read:  Diaghilev, A Life by Sjen Scheijen.