On the heels of the Audrey Tautou biopic about Coco Chanel, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky strives for a somewhat uncharted approach to tackling the career-oriented portion of Coco Chanel's life. Based on the 2003 novel by Chris Greenhalgh, the film focuses so comprehensively on the affair between Chanel and Stravinsky that the nuances are almost unfathomable.
The opening night to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" in 1913 Paris is a categorical failure (and to be honest, I'd be a little belligerent too if I was one of the Parisians who had to suffer through its creepiness). One of the few members of the audience that can appreciate the esoteric nature of the work is Coco Chanel. At the time, Chanel was still deeply in love with Boy Capel, a well-known English polo player who met Chanel while she was still acting as the mistress for a wealthy Frenchman named Etienne Balsan. Thus, her brief attraction to Stravinsky is ignored until seven years later, when they meet again in the wake of Boy's death.
Coco, never one to mince words or desires, tells Igor he should bring his family (including an ailing wife and a fucking gaggle of children) with him to her villa and work for the summer. When you're Russian, the choice is obviously: "Yeah, I think I will stay in France, what with Vladimir Lenin running my homeland right now." And so Igor and his family set up camp in La Maison de Chanel, where their feelings are forced to boil to the surface in such close proximity to one another.
It should be mentioned that the visual transitions and segues designed to reveal each new component of the plot are often times cunningly subtle, never flat out delivering a distinctive scene change (except for the almost pornographic sex scenes between Mads Mikkelsen and Anna Mouglalis). This well-crafted technique by director Jan Kounen mirrors just how covertly the affair between Coco and Igor began and persisted.
Apart from being mildly tainted by the recent release of Coco Avant Chanel, Coco & Igor doesn't really invite any comparisons to that particular biopic because its story tells a vastly different account of another period in Chanel's life. And, in truth, the couturier probably needs about four separate movies to unravel the varied stages of her existence. More than anything, Coco & Igor is a visual triumph with a paucity of words. Its sole error in relying on what is observed by the eye is when, at the end of the film, Chris Greenhalgh (who managed to snag the role of screenwriter instead of being relegated to literary limbo) takes things in an extremely bathetic direction, flashing forward to when Coco and Igor are both one cigarette away from a collapsed lung; Igor holed up at the Essex House in New York (though, mind you, it is well-documented that he preferred Los Angeles and lived there for the majority of his latter years) and Coco rotting in one of her infamous Chanel suits in Paris. I think we all know they didn't romanticize the affair half as much as the movie does.