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The development of a perfume shouldn’t be more exciting than the development of a love affair. But the heat that allegedly fuels Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky—which also wins for the year’s snooziest title—is absent in this superficially sumptuous biopic. Based on a book by Chris Greenhalgh, Jan Kounen’s adaptation is rife with longing stares, single tears, consumption, and purple postcoital scenes, like one in which sunlight actually beams through the trees. The film, however, is as lacking in emotional color as Coco’s black-and-white wardrobe and décor.
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The story begins in 1913 Paris, when Chanel attends the first performance of Stravinsky’s disastrous The Rite of Spring. (The audience’s raucous reaction is both funny and puzzling, with comments that range from “Go back to Russia!” to “Call a dentist!”) Chanel’s intrigued, but isn’t introduced to the composer until seven years later, when she is a successful designer and he a penniless artist with mouths to feed. The attraction between them is, allegedly, immediate, and Chanel invites Stravinsky and his family to stay indefinitely at her large Parisian home. They eventually make music together—so to speak.
The most significant factor in the film’s anemia is that only one of these icons feels like an icon. As played by Mads Mikkelsen, Stravinsky is a passive, plain man with a plain wife (Elena Morozova) and vanilla children. We mostly see him tinkering at the piano; except for one burst of angst-filled noise, nothing about him cries genius.
Chanel, on the other hand, is magnetic: Anna Mouglalis is gorgeous with her character’s bob, designer clothes, and wriggly walk. She sees what she wants and takes action. She’s very much in charge at her shop, insisting on perfection in everything from her employee’s nails to a dress seam. This woman is progressive; even when she comes off as a bit of a tyrant, you respect her. And, yes, the creation of her famous perfume is exciting, with hundreds of flower petals contributing to hundreds of scent combinations, the main scientist growing increasingly demoralized as Chanel rejects each one. Until, of course, she’s given No. 5.
There’s a reason besides Chanel’s hotness that draws Stravinsky to her. His wife is ill and mostly bedridden, and even if she weren’t, Morozova’s perpetually loony grin might have pushed away even the most faithful of men. The film sinks when it turns its focus on his family, particularly a languid late-chapter sequence that involves a lot of staring, almost no dialogue, and weird shots that show the characters aged. Being that it takes places in 1920 Paris, Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky has plenty of eye candy. But its plot is boring fluff.