Coco Chanel’s and Igor Stravinsky’s accomplishments don’t have much in common. The name of Chanel is synonymous with tailored, classically chic clothing, while Stravinsky’s music was anything but classic and tailored — rather, as evidenced by “The Rite of Spring,” it had the power to incite riots. At one point in time, however, the artistic spirit fueling the timelessly elegant Chanel and the chaotically innovative Stravinsky were one and the same — at least, that’s how director Jan Kounen (“8”) sees it.

“Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky”

At the Michigan
Sony Pictures Classics

Apparently, Chanel (Anna Mouglalis, “I Always Wanted to Be a Gangster”) saw Stravinsky’s (Mads Mikkelsen, “Clash of the Titans”) ballet “Rite of Spring” performed in Paris and was deeply moved by it. She felt an inexplicable attraction toward Stravinsky and his work, and invited the struggling artist and his family to stay with her. As a result, Chanel and Stravinsky had an affair that supposedly led to an exchange of ideas between the fashion and music worlds.

“Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” is a movie about ideas, yet abstract concepts like the formation of style and music don’t translate well onto the screen. It’s just boring. The basic premise behind the film would work as a thesis or a history paper but doesn’t exactly make for a captivating movie.

For one thing, the world of Chanel and Stravinsky is never put into perspective. The 1920s were imaginably a pretty wild time, especially in artistic circles. It was the advent of modernism: Picasso had just started painting as a cubist, Virginia Woolf was just starting to publish her work and New York was in an uproar of the Armory Show. Yet the world of the film is cut off from any sense of context. Coco Chanel hardly comes across as the woman who changed fashion with her little black dress. Stravinsky just seems like a man who wrote music for the vast majority of the movie. The accomplishments of such revolutionary individuals are minimized because there is no sense of the world in which they occurred and how that world changed as a result.

It’s hard to understand why the movie carries any significance at first. The film tightens its focus on their relationship and, in doing so, begins to address the question of the creation and meaning of art but only as it relates to these two people.

In one tense scene between Chanel and Stravinsky, just as their relationship is about to fall apart, Stravinsky says that Chanel’s work is insignificant in comparison to his own. She works in a shop; he writes symphonies. To the audience, this suggestion is ridiculous. Chanel’s work gives the movie its structured setting. His music works in tandem with Chanel’s lifestyle and designs. His bold, rhythmic compositions translate visually to Chanel’s style and the mixing of Chanel No. 5.

Still, the film does not articulate what is really shared between the two. Mougalis and Mikkelson both possess incredible talent but their characters seem to be hiding many emotions — whether this is the result of an excellent portrayal of artistic temperament or simply a poor portrayal of the inner hearts of these characters is hard to discern. When Stravinsky’s wife (Yelena Morozova, “Hysterical Psycho”) asks Chanel if she feels at all guilty for sleeping with a married man, Chanel simply replies “No.” But the camera focuses on her for a long time afterward, during which her frustratingly vague expression seems to be saying any number of things.

Of course, this is a consistent problem throughout the film: Questions are raised about motives and meaning, but are never answered in a creative and satisfying way. And raising open-ended questions has never really been particularly innovative, especially in comparison to the artists portrayed. “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky” simply remains a compare-and-contrast paper about how making a perfume is like creating a symphony.

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