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Design for Loving

The new “Coco” looks at Chanel's lust life.


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This year's Coco Chanel movie distinguishes itself from last year's Coco Chanel movie mostly by title length.

Though the two films cover different portions of the famed clothing designer's life, we don't learn much more about Chanel in “Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky” than we did in “Coco Before Chanel,” which took us through the origin story.

The newer movie, which looks at Chanel around the time she made her famous Chanel No. 5 perfume, has at least one distinct advantage: The successful years were much more glamorous; the newer film is much nicer to look at. One of the principle attractions of “Coco and Igor” is how gorgeous it is, filled with all manner of stylish clothing and objects. The picture we get of the characters, especially their inner lives, is much more ordinary.

Though the two films aren't technically related, “Coco and Igor” sort of picks up where “Coco Before Chanel” left off, with Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) enjoying life as a famous clothing designer, her attractive young lover, Arthur “Boy” Capel (Anatole Taubman) at her side. Sometime after Boy is killed in an auto accident, Chanel meets composer Igor Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) after the Paris debut of “The Rite of Spring,” a daring and revolutionary work that inspires more boos from the audience than applause. One of the few impressed is Chanel, who invites the brooding genius and his family to her home where he can work free of debts and away from the oppression in revolutionary Russia. The two eventually begin an affair, the unfolding of which becomes the focus of the film.

The movie's opening sequence, a recreation of a portion of the infamous “Rite of Spring” performance and the handwringing backstage, is almost worth the price of admission. Stravinsky's work sounds as avant-garde today as it did in the early 20th century, when it stood alongside other monumental works of art that embodied Ezra Pound's dictum to “make it new.” A thoroughly modern-sounding ballet, it was accompanied by dancers dressed in costumes recalling pagan cultures and performing dance just as abhorrent to some of the audience as the music.

Contemporary sensibility makes it easier to appreciate the beautiful and moving genius on display, and as it does with most of the period detail, the movie does an excellent job re-creating the moment. Similarly, expert movie craft puts us in Chanel's world, with all its elegance and style. Fans of vintage and antiques will probably drool less over Chanel's love life than her apartment, studio workshop and lavish home, where her favorite room is a dazzling collage of black and white in different geometric patterns. It's easy to be impressed by all the finely appointed houses, lush gardens and snazzy clothing. There's a lot less fuss to be made over the people in them.

Chanel and Stravinsky eventually fall into bed, but the movie loses its confidence regarding what's of note. We learn that Stravinsky's wife (Elena Morozova) didn't love the affair, but that's not exactly a revelation. What the two principles think, however, isn't simply mundane but puzzling, especially given the many scenes of the two, together and apart, walking around thinking. Of what? Too often “Coco and Igor” feels like a lengthy and fabulously made History Channel re-creation, which unfortunately does not recommend it as a movie.

Of the two characters, Stravinsky is the most compelling, with a superior performance by Mikkelsen, who imbues the Russian composer with some interesting contrasts, including devotion, honor, rigorous pursuit of art and reckless pursuit of passion. Chanel is more one-note, with Mouglalis overdoing a combination of sultry and steely. If Audrey Tautou wasn't able to muster enough gravity in her turn as the younger Coco, Mouglalis makes Chanel too heavy, something more befitting an android from a sci-fi thriller, and not in an appealing way.

The movie is based on “Coco and Igor,” a book by Chris Greenhalgh — a poet and novelist whose “The Cool End of Red” is about another affair, between Ingrid Bergman and Robert Capa — who helped adapt it to the screen with Carlo De Boutiny and director Jan Kounen. At one point the movie lurches into Chanel's creation of her now famous perfume. What these two important facets of the designer's life have to do with one another is as elusive as the perfect scent. The movie is an extravagant dud. (R) 115 min. **



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