Early modernism: So. Hot. It's Paris 1913 and Coco Chanel is in a half-lit bohemian garret mutilating her corset so she can breathe. Igor Stravinsky is seething through a riot against his music. Soon enough, we discover that under the owly glasses and spiky harmonics, Stravinsky is sporting a serious body. It is tan and meaty, does push-ups every morning, goes on meditative walks in leafy woods, and belongs to actor Mads Mikkelsen, aka the James Bond villain who cries tears of blood. Plus, he's Stravinsky. He writes music furiously. Especially if you refuse to have sex with him after having had very, very good sex with him in the imperiously chic rooms of your black-and-white modernist castle (Chanel used to say she liked colors, as long as they were black).
Chanel is the original Modern Woman, played by the erect, hipless, red-lipped Anna Mouglalis. She has a husky voice, rules her employees, sits at the head of the table and sips wine while everyone else says grace, and has lovers, not husbands. She demands devotion. On the subject of what to do about Stravinsky's redheaded, blue-eyed, peasant-dressed Russian wife, she spits at him, "You think a man is worth two women?" (Mouglalis's Chanel is almost as towering as Glenn Close's Marquise in Dangerous Liaisons.) Stravinsky shoots back, "You're not an artist, Coco. You're a shopkeeper." The sparks, they fly; there is much four-legged nakedness.
It is impossible to care whether the filmmakers took liberties in telling the true story of the short-lived affair between Chanel and Stravinsky because the details are so very right. Her real house is the set, her real designs are the costumes, and his music is the atmosphere. If only theaters would pump in Chanel No. 5 during screenings. And maybe it's an overlay, too, but the great, gendered power struggle between Chanel and Stravinsky transforms what could have been a limp period-piece romance into an emotional thriller. You will cry blood.