It's a period romance between two well-known figures. Now take that idea, crumple it up and throw it away.
" Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" ignores its genre's expectations — fitting for two such potent, avant-garde personages. All sentimentality and politeness toward these revered subjects is tossed aside. Under Jan Kounen's direction, they are living, breathing people with undeniable flaws. Their affair is passionate but illicit, conducted as the composer and his family live under the stylish parasol of the couture designer's charity.
The story essentially picks up where last year's "Coco Before Chanel" (starring Audrey Tautou) leaves off, contained in the brief span of the titular liaison. Here, the smoke-voiced and striking Anna Mouglalis projects intelligence and unassailable self-confidence, giving a clue to why both films are so engaging: Chanel is a prototypical independent, modern woman. Danish star Mads Mikkelsen is formidable. Yet his Stravinsky, the sort of cutting-edge genius one would expect to be surly and indomitable, is kept on his heels by Chanel.
The script (based on Chris Greenhalgh's novel "Coco and Igor") and the beautifully shot film express much with economy — as in a wordless sequence contrasting the withering of Stravinsky's marriage with the blossoming of the affair, or a walk in the woods as exuberance and guilt play upon his face. Watching Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring" outraging the Paris social set is a joy. Mouglalis' effortlessly elegant Chanel, with her startlingly contemporary style, makes those around her disappear.