In 1920, seven years after the disastrous Paris premiere of The Rites of Spring, composer Igor Stravinsky (Mikkelsen) meets one of his biggest fans, now-successful Coco Chanel (Mouglalis). As he's living and working in a tiny flat with his wife Katia (Morozova) and four kids, Coco invites them to stay in her gorgeous villa outside the city. And as he works on music and she tries to create a perfume, their torrid affair is hardly a secret. The question is how long Katia, who's suffering from tuberculosis, will stick around.
Writer Greenhalgh, working from his own book, avoids the traps of biopics that bend real events to fit a dramatic structure. This film has the feel of truth about it in the way it's filled with tiny moments and intimate interaction. But it also has virtually no dramatic pace or momentum, and we constantly long for a big confrontation, or maybe a random dramatic event that stirs things up.
Instead what we have is a collision of two strong-willed artists.
And Igor is so old-world that he can't even see Coco as the artist she is.
"You're just a shopkeeper," he says dismissively. And it's in scenes like this that Mikkelsen shines as a man struggling with the past, present and future, both in his life and his work. This is such a finely detailed performance that it says everything that needs to be said about the characters around Igor as well. Coco's fierce independence and avant-garde ideas, played coolly by Mouglalis, are thrown into stark relief through Mikkelsen's eyes, as is the way Morozova portrays Katia's inner struggle.
Meanwhile, Kounen invests in the set design, which is seriously eye-catching as it confidently recreates Chanel's iconic use of black and white, plus splashes of texture. David Ungaro's cinematography captures this with lavish detail, while Gabriel Yared's score echoes Stravinsky's musical style. In other words, it's sumptuous to look at and full of aching emotion, but never quite breaks the surface.
Run time: 119 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 30th December 2009
Box Office USA: $1.7M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Fresh: 47 Rotten: 43
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Jan Kounen
Producer: Chris Bolzli, Claudie Ossard
Screenwriter: Chris Greenhalgh
Also starring: Claudie Ossard
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