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Originally published Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 3:03 PM

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Movie review

'Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky': Style triumphs over substance

"Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" has beautiful fashion and music, but the storyline is less than compelling.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,' with Mads Mikkelsen, Anna Mouglalis, Elena Morozova, Natacha Lindinger, Grigori Manoukov, Anatole Taubman, Nicolas Vaude. Directed by Jan Kounen, from a screenplay by Chris Greenhalgh. 115 minutes. Rated R for some strong sexuality and nudity. In French, Russian and English, with English subtitles where necessary. Guild 45th.

Couldn't a movie about two great artists have a more compelling title than "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky," which informs but doesn't inspire? This French- language film, directed by Jan Kounen, prettily disappoints, from its title to its strangely self- conscious ending. There's fascinating material here, but instead Kounen and screenwriter Chris Greenhalgh too often settle for giving us a conventional and even dull love triangle: self-absorbed career woman, ailing wife, passive man torn between the two of them.

Things start off promisingly, with the 1913 Paris debut of Stravinsky's controversial masterwork "The Rite of Spring." The composer (Mads Mikkelson, "After the Wedding") watches nervously as the orchestra struggles with the piece's wildly divergent rhythms, and the Ballets Russes dancers strain to hear the music over the audience's shouts of derision. All is chaos — yet, in the audience, the up-and-coming designer Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (actress/Chanel model Anna Mouglalis, her voice seemingly emanating from a chic, smoke-filled basement) watches, fascinated; something in that wildness connects with her.

Suddenly, it's 1920, and Chanel is inviting the now-impoverished Stravinsky and his family to come stay at her villa outside Paris. Soon a love affair begins, despite the anguish it causes Stravinsky's consumptive wife, Catherine (Elena Morozova). (Though no screen notes indicate whether this is fact or fiction, it is known that Stravinsky stayed at Chanel's home, that they were believed to have had a brief relationship, and that she later became a patron of his music.)

This should be compelling stuff, with two contrasting creative souls: the wild, rule-breaking Russian composer, the brilliantly minimalist French arbiter of style. And yet when they come together, they're just like any couple caught up in an affair (though Stravinsky does once dismiss her as a "shopkeeper," a comment you can't imagine Chanel would have tolerated). You start wondering if James Joyce or Gertrude Stein might drop by, to liven things up.

"Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" draws in its audience not through its story, but through its look and sound: The clothing, some of which is archival Chanel, is glorious, and Mouglalis wears it with the kind of careless, slouchy glamour that the designer surely had in mind. And the music, when we're given a chance to hear to it, perpetually tantalizes. But those interested in Chanel will do better watching last year's far superior "Coco Before Chanel"; those looking for a definitive movie on Stravinsky will need to wait, and — for now — just listen.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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