PARIS - Federico Fellini may just have a successor. The world's most famous fashion designer, Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld, has proven he has what it takes to fill the late, great Italian designer's shoes, with an artsy short movie that brims with Fellini-esque pathos.
"The Tale of a Fairy," screened at Chanel's 2011-12 Cruise show on Monday night before a rapt audience of several hundred fashion insiders, is a story of well-heeled debauchery set in a French Riviera mansion, shot mostly in black and white.
The open-air screening elicited a wild round of applause, much of it from the cadre of Chanel models who star in the film and surrounded Lagerfeld during the showing. The house's latest spokesmodel, A-list actress Blake Lively, seated a row ahead of the designer, faintly glowed with approval.
Lagerfeld described the film as a sort of homage to the legions of moneyed women who snap up his designs, without a thought for their astronomical pricetags.
"In the movie, they wear dresses from the (Cruise) collection, so it's kind of a narrative around the kind of women who buys these clothes," Lagerfeld told The Associated Press in a post-show interview.
Iconic model Kristen McMenamy — whose androgynous, eyebrow-less looks catapulted her to fame in the 1990s — and longtime Chanel adviser Lady Amanda Harlech star in the movie. Freja Beha Erichsen, Chanel's current spokesmodel, plays the fairy of the title and spends much of the movie topless.
France's Anna Mouglalis is about the only professional actress in the cast — and it shows.
Though the cinematography was ravishing, the plot — something about a fairy who helps aristocrats place winning bets at the roulette tables of Monte Carlo — and particularly the dialogue fell flat. "Oh," you found yourself thinking as the cast delivered their lines with the stiffness of protagonists in a junior high play, "THAT's why they're models and not actors...."
Still, there are a few fantastic scenes, like when the camera spins dizzyingly round a circular breakfast table where the cast members are recovering from an all-night bender, their eyes obscured behind dark shades. Like the other excellent moments of the film, it bristled with the unpredictable energy and decadent voluptuousness of a Fellini movie.
An accomplished photographer — Lagerfeld has been shooting Chanel's ad campaigns for years — the ponytailed uber-designer only recently took up filmmaking.
In addition to a short spot promoting his collaboration with Italian shoemaker Hogan, he's done a series of ads for Magnum ice cream bars. One of them stars stick-thin actress Rachel Bilson, playing a stick-thin model, who (improbably) interrupts a fashion shoot to gulp down an ice cream.
At 25-minutes long, "The Tale of a Fairy" is his longest film to date, Chanel staff said. Lagerfeld clearly still has some way to go before he makes the cut at Cannes — which kicks off on Wednesday — where Fellini won the Palme d'Or in 1960 for his 180-minute masterpiece "La Dolce Vita."