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Film Review: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

June 17, 2010 8:47 a.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky.

Related Story: Review: 'Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS FM Radio Film Review: “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky”
By Beth Accomando
Air date: June 17, 2010

Coco Chanel was the subject of a recent biopic, and now she’s the subject of another. But KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says this time the focus is on her relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky.

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(TAG:) “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky” opens tomorrow (Friday) at Landmark’s La Jolla Village Theaters.


MUSIC Rite of Spring to run under graph

I always thought of Igor Stravinsky as the punk rocker of classical music. I grew up hearing stories about how the composer had previewed The Rite of Spring for my great grandfather who was a music critic. I was fascinated by his account of how the premiere performance nearly caused a riot in the elegant Paris theater. So I was immediately hooked when the new film “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky” chose this 1913 premiere of The Rite of Spring as its opening scene.

MUSIC Rite of Spring up

The scene works well on a number of levels. First, it plays like a historical document as it depicts in detail the provocative performance and the audience’s boiterous reaction. It also reminds us how modern and daring the music and dance still are. And finally it shows what sparks Coco Chanel’s interest in Stravinsky.


In the world of fashion, Chanel rocks the boat in a manner akin to what Stravinsky does in the music world. So as the crowd grows more rambunctious in its protestation, you can see Chanel’s interest in Starvinsky rising. But she’s a cool customer. So when she’s introduced to the composer after the performance, she feigns a lack of interest.

CLIP Introduction (in French)

“Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky” follows on the heels of the recent “Coco Before Chanel,” and follows chronologically in terms of a historical timeline. Seeing the earlier biography is helpful in setting the stage for “Coco and Igor.” But “Coco Before Chanel” felt very much like a formula biopic in which the filmmaker tries – with 20-20 hindsight – to connect the dots of a person’s life. “Coco and Igor,” however, feels less structured and more vibrant as it looks to a pair of passionate artists who briefly connect.

CLIP Offers house

When Stravinsky finds himself in financial hard times, Chanel – then an ascending star on the fashion scene – offers him and his family a place to stay. Her luxurious home also allows him a place to work. But the close proximity of these two driven artists proves too much of a temptation and they fall into an affair. It’s the intimacy of that relationship and the particular dynamics of these two headstrong individuals that gives life to this film.

Director Jan Kounen relies mostly on visuals to tell his story. Chanel’s elegant, black and white home defines her aesthetic sensibility and her personality. The production design of the film is as important to telling this story as the characters. That’s fitting in a film about artists who use their art to challenge the conventions of their time.

Chanel is drawn to Stravinsky’s talent and his willingness to take risks in his music. She thinks she’s found a kindred spirit but is taken aback when she discovers that he does not see her as an artist on equal footing with him. Instead, he seems drawn to her because she sets her own rules and leads a life in defiance of convention. Stravinsky, on the other hand, leads a rather conservative life but channels his rebellion into his art. So he’s somewhat bewildered by his own passions, and troubled by guilt when faced with continuing the affair and possibly leaving his family.

CLIP music

Kounen keeps the film from falling into biopic clichés. But unlike his subjects, he does slip into self-indulgence at times. Kounen has some overly produced scenes in which the characters feel more like props than characters. But overall Kounen and his talented cast succeed in bringing this passionate affair to vivid life.

For KPBS, I’m Beth Accomando.