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Making beautiful music together: Mikkelsen and Mouglalis as Coco and Igor.

A Fitful Affair

By Laura Leon

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

Directed by Jan Kounen

The opening set piece of the clumsily titled Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky is fraught with anticipation, tension, and suspense, as the title composer (Mads Mikkelsen) readies himself for the Parisian premiere of The Rite of Spring. His pregnant wife Katerina (Yelena Morazova) assures Igor that he is a genius, but even she looks queasy. The fabulously ensembled patrons arrive, giddy with excitement, and there’s Nijinsky himself painstakingly offering last minute advice to his garishly made-up dancers. The conductor exhorts his nervous orchestra to follow his lead and not to think about the rhythms—or lack thereof as many theatre-goers determine to be the case. A near riot breaks out as some Parisians rush for the street, disdainful of the sacrilege they are hearing, while others, more adventurous, keep up a wave of bravos. In the pandemonium, a single, exquisite and still presence remains, that of Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglalis), who seems compelled and enchanted by the sheer artistry and daring of Stravinsky’s score.

To say this lengthy scene isn’t a rush is to deny the palpable forces of nature which create, and live for, a particular art. We next encounter a bereaved Coco just after the First World War, as she saunters into a ribald party at which Stravinsky and other Russian émigrés discuss politics. She slips him a note, and later offers him the use of her country house for composing. Bring the wife and four kids, she commands, ever the authoress of her own destiny. Through brief scenes in which the two compare creative notes, the sense of sexual desire heats up; when Chanel sits next to Stravinsky at the piano, demanding a lesson, it’s evident where things are going. Before long, the two are having passionate sex at the piano, under the piano . . . everywhere, it seems, where people are bound to walk in on them. Katerina, who knew Stravinsky since childhood, is fully aware of what is transpiring between her husband and their benefactress, but sits by, hoping for the affair to run its course.

The movie is lush, throbbing: with the sound of Stravinsky’s best works; with the tumid sense of nature in full bloom or, conversely, dank autumnal rot; and with, of course, the sheer visual splendor of Coco’s style, her stunning attire and trés chic furnishings. More sensual than any sex scene is one in which Stravinsky, pre-affair, slips into Chanel’s boudoir suite and takes in her belongings, her style. The eroticism of his getting to know her in this manner is a perfect precursor to the moment when she seduces him. The tensions of the domestic situation percolate, giving the movie, as it progresses, its only drama; weirdly, once Coco and Igor give in to each other, their relationship loses steam. The end of the movie, a rather confusing rehashing of deathbed memories and regrets, tries to emulate the tension and excitement of the first scene, without success. The wet blanket on the movie’s cohesion occurs about two-thirds of the way in, when the lovers, quarrelling, give way to what they really think of their respective talents, with Igor calling Coco nothing more than a dress maker [as opposed to an artist, like him]. It’s almost as if the moviemakers should have stopped right there, because there’s nothing left to watch but slow progress toward the bitter end.

 

Artificial Dramatization

The Switch

Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck

The, er, climactic “insemination party” in The Switch is a grotesquely unfunny sequence in which repressed nebbish Wally (Justin Bateman) gets black-out drunk out of jealousy and spills a specimen cup of semen donated by the “seed man”—and secretly replaces it with his own “ingredient.” Before the party, The Switch is merely a pass-the-time, big-screen sitcom about two best friends, Wally and Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) who somehow missed a romantic connection. But since no-nonsense Kassie doesn’t want to wait any longer to have a baby, she hires a sperm donor who has all the qualities that Wally lacks: Roland (Patrick Wilson) is tall, athletic, romantic, and teaches women’s studies. Wally doesn’t remember his drunken fumble, so when Kassie returns to New York City seven years later, he has to realize on his own that her son, Sebastian (Thomas and Bryce Robinson), is his. In the meantime, there are redundant, unfunny asides with Kassie’s loud-mouth gal pal (Juliette Lewis) and Wally’s supportive supervisor (Jeff Goldblum, whose louche character should’ve been given a scene or two to steal), but these don’t compensate for the barely amusing dialogue or the fact that Aniston’s character has no personality except for her professionally parlayed professionalism, as a friend and as a mother. The film never loosens up into hilarity as did Blades of Glory, also directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck.

But then The Switch switches gears as Wally, in his helpmate role of Uncle Wally (which Bateman plays with the just right touch of put-upon exasperation and fatherly warmth) recognizes that Sebastian has the same neurosis and idiosyncrasies as he does. And in an unexpectedly appealing twist, Sebastian becomes less difficult and bonds with Wally as a kindred geek. This isn’t such a good thing, despite Robinson’s utterly natural performance as a moppet-eyed tyrant with genuine issues, since their bonding is interrupted by a new romance that’s more artificial than Kassie’s insemination. Thanks to Bateman and Robinson, the film isn’t quite loathsome, but it sure isn’t likeable, either.

—Ann Morrow


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