I once told my husband that if he ever strayed I’d kill him and I’d do the time. Regardless of whether I’d carry out that threat, I wouldn’t accept the situation “with a mixture of magnaminity, bitterness, and compassion”, as Stravinsky’s wife is said to have borne his affairs. I just couldn’t imagine being so passive – or occasionally passive-aggressive – as the composer’s put-upon spouse. Then again, I can’t really understand the other characters in this film, either. Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) is a self-absorbed narcissistic jerk and Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) is a preening, predatory egomaniac.
Based on the 2002 novel Coco & Igor detailing the alleged affair between the designer and the composer, the film begins in 1913 Paris, with the legendary opening of Rite of Spring. Famously, the unorthodox choreography and abrasive music (it basically set the blueprint for metal) upset those expecting Swan Lake and the show turned into something of a riot.
Chanel is present at the show, but doesn’t meet Stravinsky until 1920. As a regular patron of the arts, she offers him and his family use of her country house, since he’s broke and living in a hotel. Pretty quickly, an affair develops, and soon the composer is inspired to write passionately while Coco invents Chanel No. 5.
It’s the tension between the lovers and Stravinsky’s confused family that this film explores. Its impact is lessened because only the wife seems to have any real personality, and it’s difficult to have any sympathy whatsoever for the titular cheaters. When they have sex for the first time, Coco initiates it by stripping off without even kissing him: cold, imperious and rather soulless. Only the music conveys any real passion.
The acting is fine and the direction is beautiful, so even though it fails to engage on an emotional level it doesn’t get boring. There’s always Stravinsky’s incredible music to enjoy, though it’s a little jarring to see him apparently writing passages from much earlier works.
I enjoyed it as a blend of stretched out music video and tawdry celebrity gossip, but anyone expecting Antony & Cleopatra is going to be as disappointed as that audience in 1913.