Fact-or-fiction Chanel-Stravinsky affair curtains Cannes

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Biographers are divided on whether or not the pair fell in love.

Cannes -- "Coco" Chanel's serial affairs with illustrious lovers have long been set in print, and Cannes curtains its film festival Sunday with a fact-or-fiction tale on her affair with Igor Stravinsky.

Endorsed by the fashion label and starring house "face" Anna Mouglalis and Karl Lagerfeld designs, the story chronicles Chanel's 1913 encounter and ensuing affair with the Russian avant-garde composer.

Historians agree that Chanel, a successful businesswoman with connections to Paris's leading artists at the time, did indeed know Stravinsky and was his patron in the 1920s, inviting him, his wife and four children to live in her country home.

But biographers are divided on whether or not the pair fell in love and the fashion house itself told AFP that "this is fiction as we have no proof."

Biopics are not an easy genre, and director Jan Kounen's "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky" elicited little response from critics at a preview ahead of its red-carpet premiere at the evening closing ceremony.

A century after Gabrielle Chanel launched her now legendary house, and 40 years after her death, Coco currently is all the rage in France.

A dozen new biographies are on bookshelves, a TV film aired recently and last month saw the release of a movie on Chanel's Cinderella-style rags-to-riches life -- "Coco Before Chanel" directed by Anne Fontaine.

Fontaine's film kicks off in the orphanage where Chanel was dumped as a child and winds up with her debut as Paris's queen of couture -- a sort of making-of of the fiercely independent free-spirited "Mademoiselle" who helped liberate womenswear.

Among later chronicled lovers were a Russian Grand Duke, a poet, a designer and the Duke of Westminster, who introduced her to Winston Churchill. During World War II she had a liaison with a German intelligence officer and left France at the close of the war to return in 1953.

Fontaine's film shows the young woman moving in with a wealthy horsebreeder and moving up in society, and ends with the 1919 death of "love-of-her-life" Boy Capel, the English businessman who provided the funds to open her first shop in Paris.

Kounen takes the plot further, opening at a legendary 1913 Paris concert where Diaghilev's avant-gardist Russian Ballet, choreographed by Nijinsky to Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring", upset theatre-goers and raised a storm.

"It was the most important evening in the history of music," Kounen said at a press conference.

Years later, after Boy Capel's death, Chanel and Stravinsky meet again, fall in love and have an affair as the composer's consumptive wife -- played by Elena Morozova -- looks on.

The film, said director Kounen, "depicts an era and its protagonists, and two bodies of work -- Chanel's and Stravinsky's."

"I show the psychological dimension of the person, the artist's ability to transcend dramatic events in his life but also his obsession and the sacrifice that he makes of his life for the sake of his art."

But at one point, the ground-breaking composer -- played by Mads Mikkelsen -- slaps Chanel down, saying: "You are not an artist Coco, you are a woman who sells fabrics."

"Stravinsky," Mikkelsen told journalists, "was an artist, a real artist. What he had inside came from inside. He was cut off from the era in which he lived, contrary to Coco Chanel who was aware of the times."



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