Thursday, August 16, 2012

Christophe Honoré's BELOVED: a mother-daughter movie musical that makes use of Deneuve, Mastroianni and Ludivine Sagnier

For fans of the song These Boots Were Made for Walkin', 2011 was a banner year. The wonderful Italian film Kryptonite (click and scroll down) used it prominently and pointedly during the movie (which had its NYC debut at this year's Open Roads festival) and again over its end credits. Now the new French film BELOVED (Les bien-aimés) uses it equally well at the beginning -- over its title credits, which are a knockout.

After sitting through this inspired credit sequence, you are so captured by the movie, it's as though the filmmaker Christophe Honoré (shown at right) has been given a get-out-of-jail-free card -- for the rest of this film, at least. Which is good, because he occasionally needs it during the movie's two-hour and fifteen-minute running time. Very much in the style of his earlier and often enchanting Love Songs, Beloved has its characters now and then break into song to tell us their innermost thoughts, hopes and fears. As with Love Songs (and many of Honoré's films, the score is from composer Alex Beaupain, whose tiddly-wink melodies are pretty repetitive and sound an awfully lot alike from song to song.

This drove the companion with whom I attended the screening a little crazy (he's an opera buff), and pretty much soured him on the movie. "If they'd simply dropped the music and used the lyrics as dialog, they could have saved twice the time," he insisted. While I agree about the repetitiveness and the somewhat ditzy style of the music, it didn't bother me much, for the songs give the characters the opportunity to let go, emote and be honest. And if we heard all this in dialog, we'd say no way -- too expository, for Christ's sake!

Beloved covers three generation of women, beginning with the wonderfully open, sassy and I'll-take-mine, please, performance of Ludivine Sagnier (above, left) as Madeleine, a young woman who love shoes (two photos up), the more stylish the better. She takes to the street to support her style habit, then meets and falls in love with Jaromil an emigre physician (Rasha Bukvic, above right), who sweeps her off her feet and then off to Eastern Europe, where, rotter that he is, he fucks around on her regularly.

The offspring of this odd twosome, Vera, grows into Chiara Mastroianni, above, left, here looking more like her father than I have yet seen. (At times, she could be Marcello in make-up and a blond wig.) Though ostensibly attached to best friend Clément (Honoré regular Louis Garrel, above, right),

Vera falls in love (at first sight, of course) with rock musician Henderson, played by the real surprise of this movie, Paul Schneider, above right. Mr. Schneider, somewhat in the manner that he accomplished in Bright Star, creates an indelible character in this confused but very game fellow.

By this time Madeleine has aged into Ms Mastroianni's real mother, the reigning queen of French cinema, Catherine Deneuve (above, center), while her dad (who makes regular visits to Paris from eastern Europe) has turned into everyone's favorite Czech director Milos Forman, above, left. (This latter morphing is the movie's most difficult to accept: tall, sexy Rasha into short, squat Milos? We don't think so.)

In spite of the stellar cast and performances that deliver the goods, the movie does have its longueurs. Those lyrics do repeat themselves -- for effect, yes, but -- too much. Yet the sweep of the film, its enormously romantic feel and its intelligent probing into the darker side of romance should keep you pretty consistently provoked and entertained.

Stick with Beloved, and you'll have made a journey into lives that encompass the 1960s through 2010, with all the changing clothes, cars and hair styles that this entails. On another level, however, you'll be made aware of how the ties of family play with and against those of limerence and love, along with the evergreen theme of youth, so light and carefree, eventually aging into sadness and loss. What happens in this movie, however, is the one thing that never should.

Very French, Beloved, from Sundance Selects, opens tomorrow, Friday, August 17, in New York City at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and in Los Angeles at Landmark's NuArt Theatre, before making its way into foreign film venues around the country in a limited release.

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