COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY,
OR THE CORONATION OF RUSSIAN DOLLS
by director Jan Kounen
It’s interesting to have the opportunity to write about Coco and Igor, especially after all the talking I’ve done in the past year promoting the film. What to say, what to talk about? Do I go in to automatic explanation mode that under the guise of Coco and Igor, this is a film about couples, male vs. female, the creative impulse, the cursed and acclaimed artists of the 1920s? All of this has been said or written elsewhere, because it's what I always talk about.
Making a film is about embarking on an adventure with a story, with emotions, thoughts, ideas and feelings that you want to covey to an audience. During the process of its making, the film escapes, and I love these moments when the film inspires you, you capture the inspiration as the actors begin to improvise and you’re headed towards an unknown you do not necessarily understand, but which seems right. It is a modus operandi, and when it occurs it is a delicate and exhilarating moment. Let me explain.
Suddenly you begin to feel a soft, internal excitement, you change your plans, you begin to ask strange things of your actors. Or, an actor or a technician will suggest an idea that you pick up on. You’ve already experienced this quiet, internal excitement; there is no doubt or fear, just joy and concentration. You listen, you learn by doing. This is the moment you forget what you wanted to tell, because it is only now you are beginning to find out; Coco and Igor is a film about the senses, little information passes through words, it is the movement, the music and the glance that describe the action, and this music begins to play. The filming is exhausting, so when these rare moments occur, just a few minutes over several months, you must listen and follow.
There comes a point towards the end of the editing when you find your movie. You scan the beast and try to solve the problems, and then the movie ends, you only see the faults. For example at Cannes, the film was shown on closing night, a joy but also a punishment, the screening technically sublime, and you only see errors.
Then comes a time when you are calm and you discover your own movie, and that day, much later, I saw its “Russian Dolls.” I understood which scenes had to be shot. Of course I knew I had shot them but it was on an intellectual level, and on that day I saw the dolls, or rather noticed them, throughout the film.
“Russian Dolls” are scenes that replay constantly, fitting together one behind the other like Russian dolls, from the smallest to the largest. I'm not going to describe all the dolls of the film; it would be showing you too much; perhaps just the first and last and how they fit together.
The first doll, the largest and most visible, is the Rite of Spring, the film's opening, the first consecration of Igor Stravinsky written for the ballet by Vaslav Nijinsky in 1913 at the Theatre des Champs Elysees. The dancer on stage is dancing the sacrifice, then she is literally sacrificed by the screaming provocations of the audience. This is the synchronicity in which Coco and Igor first meet. The rest of the film will be this consecration played over and over again on the stage of their lives; the ballet of Igor visiting Coco Chanel in her room, Coco coming down to close Igor’s completed score. Then the last, smallest doll is revealed, this last reworking of the Rite of Spring, this smallest doll that concerns us all, the call to transcendence.