Beloved/Les Bien-Aimes (2011) - Honoré
After 2007's Love Songs, writer/director Christophe Honoré tackles musical comedy genre again, with a deeply personal film, Beloved. This time it's a period piece with the legendary Catherine Deneuve and the famed Czech director Milos Forman, along with his regular set of collaborators- Louis Garrel, Chiara Mastroianni and Ludivine Sagnier. Mastroianni, last seen in the title role of Lena in Honoré's 2009 non-musical, Making Plans for Lena, takes another leading role here, as a woman slogging through a messy love life in a sinister decade we call the 90s. As in Lena, she is mesmerizing in this.
The film also reunites real life mother-daughter team playing mother-daughter -Deneuve and Mastroianni appeared together in two films- André Téchiné's My Favorite Season and Arnaud Desplechin's Christmas Tale, but never in forefront and intimate way as their relationship is portrayed here.
The sprawling film examines loves in two different eras: Madeleine (portrayed by Sagnier and later by Deneuve) goes through somewhat naive yet free-love decade of the 60s and and Vera (Mastroianni), the AIDS and terror stricken 90s - 2000s, the time of fear in many ways. Honoré does a good job in conveying the former decade very economically and effectively, referencing his hero Jacques Demy's pastel color palette (shoes and raincoats) for Paris and a lone Soviet tank in the street for Prague (The Russian Invasion of Czechoslovakia, 1968).
So it's the 90s. Things are more complicated, if not emotionally but in being intimate with someone. After aggressively pursuing a handsome American musician Henderson (Paul Schneider), Vera finds out that he is gay. That doesn't stop them from having a meaningful, long distance relationship. But for Vera, it means a lot of fear, uncertainty and unhappiness.
Milos Forman, the esteemed Czech New Waver, known mostly for his award winning American films (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, People vs. Larry Flynt) turns up as Jaromil, Madeleine's old flame. Gregarious and uninhibited, Forman's performance gives an unexpected jolt to the film.
Beloved is a dense, literary film that could've been a novel (a sizable 500 pager at least). Honore manages it in 135 minutes, still, the longest in his filmography. Not everything works perfectly- the period settings make the film less fluid and inhibited in terms of character dynamics compared to the present setting and immediacy of Love Songs.
At the end, despite the unconditional support and love from her parents, Vera, fraught with unrequited love, self destructs. Both of Honoré musicals turn out to be about grieving, not the happiest subject in musical comedy genre. But Alex Beaupain's music continues to be lovely and light and catchy lyrics reflect the feelings of these lovelorn characters very well.
Beloved is an ambitious film and has a lot to admire, especially for its emotional resonance and unconventional playfulness. It's one of the more memorable French films I've seen in a long while.
Beloved opens Friday Aug 17 at IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema in NY. Director Christophe Honoré will be on hand for 6:55pm screenings on Aug 17- 18 at IFC Center. For more information and tickets, please visit IFC Center website.