‘Chanel’: Historical romance lacks life, tone

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 8, 2010 6:27pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

If two famous people really did have an illicit liaison in the 1920s, let’s hope it had more zip than the affair depicted in “Coco Chanel &Igor Stravinsky,” a snoozy historical romance.

Note the billing: The famed fashion designer goes first, before one of the great musical geniuses of the 20th century. That’s a tip-off about the movie’s concerns, which favor picture-postcard looks over substance.

It begins with a prologue, informing us that Coco Chanel (played by Anna Mouglalis) was in the audience on the legendary night in 1913 when the violent strains of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” caused a riot during its ballet performance.

We skip ahead seven years, after Chanel has established a successful Parisian fashion house and Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) needs a place to live. She offers him her lavish home outside Paris, mostly decorated in black and white. (Coco claims she likes color, “as long as it’s black.”)

Stravinsky brings his family along, and his wife (Yelena Morozova) is quick to sense that Coco might be nuts for Igor. We have to wait a while — Stravinsky appears to be creatively blocked during the build-up — but eventually the two make, er, sweet music together.

This is all presented in a certain dreadful tendency of the European art movie, where everything is beautifully dressed but the blood seems to have been drained out of people. Director Jan Kounen tends to view things from the perspective of Stravinsky’s wife, disapproving of these shenanigans but morosely enduring them.

The style defeats even good actors: Mouglalis has a marvelous low voice and the lanky frame of a fashion scarecrow, and Mikkelsen (late of “Clash of the Titans”) carries around charisma like nobody’s business.

But they can’t get anything going. Of course, it’s part of the movie’s point that these two are so self-absorbed they can’t really connect with anything other than their art.

Maybe that’s why the film comes alive in rare moments such as Coco’s trip to a perfume factory, where she sniffs a series of potential scents for her new product. The decisive choice (one of those breathless moments of the “I shall call it Chanel … No. 5” variety) is treated like a turning point in world history.

Some would argue that it was — maybe those people are the audience for the movie. But it’s hard to imagine anybody warming up much to this pallid collection of poses.

“Coco Chanel &Igor Stravinsky” ½

The famed fashion designer and the composer carried on an affair in the 1920s, which the film chronicles in bloodless and snoozy style. Two interesting actors, Mads Mikkelsen and Anna Mouglalis, are defeated by the deadlier tendencies of the European art movie, as well as the generally disapproving tone. In French, with English subtitles.

Rated: R for nudity, subject matter

Showing: Guild 45th

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