and Paris have to be two of the most romantic cities in the world. Yet, a mother and daughter have relationship issues
in both European capitals. It seems like
codependent sexual dysfunction runs in their family in Christophe Honoré’s
latest movie musical, Beloved (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
Beloved opens in swinging
sixties Paris, as Honoré revisits his acknowledged Jacques Demy influences. It is like a fairy tale, in which shopgirl
Madeleine falls in love with Jaromir, one of the prostitution clients she sees
on the side. It’s a French fairy
tale. After Jaromir completes his
specialized medical studies, she moves to Prague with him, becoming his
wife. Soon, the hotshot doctor acts like
he also has a license to philander, but his wife refuses to recognize it. Things come to head just as the Soviet tanks
start rolling through the streets of Prague.
divorces Jaromir but she never gets him out of her system. Even though separated by distance and ideology,
he maintains a hold on her, despite her second marriage to an adoring
gendarme. It will be a pattern that
somewhat repeats for her daughter Vera.
Her colleague Clément is devoted to her, but she only has eyes for Henderson,
a rock drummer from New York, who happens to be (mostly) gay.
who has ever considered themselves losers for carrying a hopeless torch will feel
much healthier once they watch Vera pine away her life. Initially it is rather uncomfortable, but it
gets downright tragic. Beloved is far from your typically
bubbly movie musical, but it works better than Honoré’s prior attempt, Love Songs, largely because the
characters are not as irritating and the situations are less stifling. Beloved
can make viewers wince, but it also gives them air to breathe.
walks quite a tightrope, using perhaps the two greatest post-war tragedies, the
1968 Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia and September 11th, as
backdrops for his mercilessly intimate drama.
Honoré focuses exclusively on the micro level, where painful personal conflicts
continue unabated, even when the wider world is turned upside down. Nonetheless, some of the “internal contradictions”
of post-Prague Spring Czechoslovakia are duly noted and images of the 1968
invasion are suitably ominous. Given
their visceral nature, the scenes of 2001 Montreal (where Vera’s flight was
diverted) are somewhat iffier, flirting with exploitation by mere association.
Milos Forman never sings in Beloved, but
he is perfectly cast as the old charmingly degenerate Jaromir of 2008. In contrast, Honoré alumnus Chiara
Mastroianni handles her husky vocal features fairly well and keeps viewers
vested in her angst far more compellingly than in his outright maddening Making Plans for Lena. Her real life mother Catherine Deneuve has
some nice moments as Twenty-First Century Madeleine, but it is totally the sort
of diva-centric character we are accustomed to see her assume. In contrast, Ludivine Sagnier is
appropriately spritely as young Madeleine in the early Cherbourg-esque
scenes. Louis Garrel (son of Philippe)
is his usual sullen screen presence as Clément, but American Paul Schneider is surprisingly
engaging as the commitment-phobic Henderson.
As a musical, Beloved works rather well, thanks to some frequently distinctive
songs penned by Alex Beupain. They
certainly fit the vibe and context of the film (as well as any movie musical
tunes ever do) and often serve to advance the story. While it is a bit overstuffed with characters
and hoped for significance, it is definitely one of Honoré’s better works. Recommended on balance for Francophiles and those
who appreciate moody musicals, Beloved opens
this Friday (8/17) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Christophe Honore, French Cinema, Milos Forman, Movie Musicals