The risk you run when making a movie about important musicians from history is that the pedants will be out in force. Salieri didn’t really plan to poison Mozart or make masked visitations, for example. There are really only two solutions. One is to make a truly great movie (which is why no sane person cares whether Amadeus is ‘historical’ or not). The other is to bore the pants off the pedants.
This is the solution adopted by the creators of Coco & Igor.
In theory, I should have liked this film a great deal: I’m interested in fashion history, I’m a Chanel No.5 girl, I adore Stravinsky’s music, and anything involving a substantial re-enactment of the premiere of The Rite of Spring must surely be a winner. But it left me unmoved, and by the second half I was stifling yawns continuously. Because – and there is really no getting ’round it – Coco & Igor is not a good movie.
First, an incident that might warrant a sentence in a book or a few minutes in a bio-documentary has been expanded beyond its means to fill two hours. This fleeting relationship is not a two-hour story. In fact, as a fellow sufferer kept pointing out to me, Stravinsky’s relationship with Vera Sudeikina (which followed hot on the heels of the fling with Chanel) and their eventual marriage is far more significant and interesting.
Vera is also reported to have been more beautiful than the real Coco. You wouldn’t know this, of course, because the film casts in the role of Coco a beautiful and willowy actress-model (and representative of the House of Chanel, incidentally). She does justice to the gorgeous clothes, but not so much to the script, which is minimalist, or to the emotions, which smoulder with the uniform stoniness of the modern catwalk. She is extraordinarily tall. Perhaps this is why her Igor must be a foot or so taller than he was in real life. They both look rather good in the nude. Repeatedly.
I give brownie points for the extended opening sequence showing the premiere of The Rite of Spring. (And for what sounded like a French bassoon.) The BBC documentary, Riot at the Rite, captured the ballet better and more completely, but it was spoilt a little by its English-accented audience shouting things like ‘utter twaddle’. At least the heckling in Coco & Igor is in French.
And Gabriel Yared doesn’t do too badly in creating a complementary soundtrack in a Stravinskian vein.
Someone has done some research, working into the plot Chanel’s financing of the December 1920 revival of The Rite… (to the tune of Fr.300,000), which used Roerich’s original costumes and decor but with revised choreography by Massine. But it’s probably best not to look too closely at the timeline in relation to the affair (winter 1920/21). Nor worry that Chanel’s foray into Ballets Russes costume design was later, for Cocteau’s Le Train Bleu (1924), or that Ernest Ansermet conducted the revival, not Stravinsky. Ah, picky details!
Someone – possibly the same someone – seems to think that Stravinsky practically recomposed The Rite of Spring for the revival. (Not so. Some very minor revisions were made, but after the score was published in 1921.) Even more amusing is the fond belief that composers spend their time playing over music that they composed six or seven years ago.
I can’t deny that it was all very beautiful: the aloof decor of Chanel’s villa, the period clothing eye candy. But I was left questioning the motivation behind this movie. For example, the conclusion involves a completely unnecessary ‘flash forward’, with a doddery Stravinsky yet again picking out that bassoon solo on the piano and a very elderly Coco wearing an iconic Chanel suit. I can’t help thinking that this sequence is there primarily to get on screen an example of a post-1920s Chanel design (the Chanel design), which otherwise couldn’t have been featured. The ‘aimable’ collaboration with the House of Chanel acknowledged in the credits seems to have dipped in the direction of a branding exercise.
Meanwhile, there is no genuine drama or convincing storytelling to compensate for the infelicities or the tedium. It’s not sufficient just to be good looking. I call it utter twaddle.