Christophe Honore's new film is a return to the musical format of Les Chansons d'Amour, using Alex Beaupain as composer once again and adding Catherine Deneuve as the ultimate Jacques Demy, tribute to his stock company of Ludivine Sagnier, Chiara Mastroianni and Louis Garrel. Real-life mother and daughter Deneuve and Mastroianni play mother and daughter with Sagnier as the young Deneuve in a story that examines, with the lightest of touches, love and desire through the decades from the 60's to the present day, from Paris to Prague to London, Montreal and back to Paris again.
The first hour was fine. I enjoyed the Parisian scenes, the sultry French singing, but after this I thought it began to pall. By 90 minutes I was thinking "how long could they keep rambling on like this?". 100 minutes and I started seriously wondering whether I could really go the distance. I didn't want to give up so I cheated and started playing at double speed and skip reading the subtitles, watching in normal speed every few minutes. The cast tells me it should have been a brilliant film, but it became so tedious and repetitive (especially the music) that it ends up as being one of the worst films I've seen for a while. And that's from someone who loves French cinema.
In typical French dramatic style a French shoe sales woman in 1960’s Paris finds herself turning to prostitution to help pay the bills, a client of hers, Czech doctor named Jaromil falls in love with her and they marry, moving to Prague where Madeline gives birth to a daughter. Several decades later Madeline returns to Paris with her daughter Vera where they both struggle to reconcile their love lives with their own individual issues with fidelity and commitment.
Directed by prolific French director Christophe Honere and starring European greats such as Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier and Chiara Mastroianni Beloved ought to have been a dramatic and fulfilling art piece, and the first quarter does have a refreshing and artistic feel about it; the 1960’s French staging and the surprise use of music gives this movie an unconventional and interesting start. However, as is often the case with musicals, the sudden bursting into song soon becomes tawdry and over-used and, as the narrative spirals down into darker elements, only serves to interrupt the audience-character connection, rather than solidify it.
I have to say this is what struck me most about Beloved and I could not help but feel that had the musical element been removed all together then perhaps this movie would have been more successful. As Vera and Madeline’s individual romantic interests become more complex and their characters more life-like the use of song becomes alienating, where we should be understanding Vera’s commitment issues through her tumultuous relationship with her ex, persistent pursuit of a gay co-worker and own more private demonstrations of her emotional struggles, we instead find ourselves brought to the edge of intrigue only to be offered a poor and unfulfilling musical outburst rather than the deep and intimate insight we hoped for.
I wondered at first if it was the alien presence of the musical numbers that made Beloved seem so long and tedious after a while, I eventually realised however that, although the songs may well have had an impact the two and a half hour runtime alone accounts for a large part of my boredom. It is not as if the characters do not provide enough narrative fibre to sustain you throughout the movie, but rather that the story itself is weak in places, ultimately unsatisfactory and persistently interrupted by the musical moments. Some ruthless editing in both the screen writing and directorial stages would have made this a really interesting decade-spanning drama; instead however it is somewhat of a disappointment.