French-Russian entente cordiale: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

You are likely to appreciate the refinement and dramatic twist of Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky (presented at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival) if films like ‘A Handful of Dust’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ are your cup of tea. There seems to be the same scenario of spacious manors, their powerful and charming owners and invités falling under the fatal spell of the place doomed to secret love triangles…

This time it is about a French-Russian cooperation when, after the turmoil of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Stravinsky family sojourn in Paris where Coco Chanel is about to create her signature perfume. The visionary Igor Stravinsky, whose performance in front of the conservative bourgeois audience a few years before had been unsuccessful, is invited to Chanel’s villa to fully focus on his revolutionary music.

The épater le bourgeois logic seems to be closely followed by the next move of both outstanding personalities. Moral questions cannot be avoided, though, while the affair spins forward Stravinsky’s wife is suffering from tuberculosis and their four children remain in the villa. In this respect, the story is truly thought-provoking, as is the contrast of two very different women representing their respective cultures. Independent, self-confident, some will say selfish, talented and brilliant Coco has a dominant voice with her visual, almost graphic, splendour in black and white, the pianist’s colours, created with a little help from Karl Lagerfeld. Catherine, played by the Russian actress Elena Morozova, the composer’s legitimate spouse and mother of his children, remains voiceless most of the time taking the upper hand through humbleness, piousness and, probably, moral superiority.

Anyone who has seen the previous chapter of Coco’s life in ‘Coco Before Chanel’, will be familiar with her tragic love story with Arthur Boy Capel, a rich Englishman who had to marry another woman and, finally, died in a car accident. The path less travelled does not seem to bring much happiness to the self-made woman who never married but was recompensed through fame and fortune, and by becoming a new icon for the women of the 20th century.

Go and see this remarkable intercultural piece to make your own conclusions and discuss it with family and friends as well as practise your French and Russian at the same time and, I’m sure, admire the masterful performance of the French actress Anna Mouglalis. Châpeau !

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