Maybe it’s because Christophe Honore’s “Beloved,” opens with a French cover of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” (a personal favorite) to set the mood of the film. Or perhaps it’s because three of France’s finest actresses – Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni (Deneuve’s real-life daughter) and Ludivine Sagnier, portray strong, willful women stricken by love often to bittersweet effect. Whether it’s the reasons above or the story itself, Honore’s musical dramedy allows audiences the welcome immersion into the music, performances, and story.
That’s not to say “Beloved” is a pitch-perfect film, because it’s not. But it’s the right mix of visual splendors and melodrama into which one can escape.
Opening in 1964 with shots of Paris and a fabulous montage of shoes being modeled, bought and sold while “These Boots” plays, we meet shop girl Madeleine (Sagnier) as she covets and ultimately steals a pair of Roger Vivier shoes. As we’re told in present day voice-over by her now grown daughter, Vera (Mastroianni), these shoes saved her mother from a life in prison. Because of these fine shoes, Madeleine is propositioned for sex for a heady sum of money, and she accepts.
This quickly leads her to a Prague doctor, Jaromil (Rasha Bukvic), who Madeleine ultimately marries. Jumping to few years later, Madeleine and Jaromil live in Prague with his mother. They now have a child, Vera, also outfitted in smart shoes.
But as the Russian tanks move into Prague, Vera discovers Jaromil is having an affair. She takes Vera and heads back to Paris where the film catches up with them in 1978. Madeleine is now re-married to Gouriot, a Gendarme, and teen Vera is surly. Czech husband, Jaromil still floats in and out of the romantic picture for Madeleine.
The film depicts forty-plus years the ups and downs of love triangles and forbidden love for Madeleine, and daughter, Vera. Often set to song, present-day Madeleine (Deneuve) tries to advise her daughter in affairs of the heart, while she struggles with her own.
As the film heads to 1997, Vera finds herself in love with drummer Henderson (Paul Schneider). The problem is he’s bi-sexual and incapable of loving her. This leads to more drama and heartbreak through songs.
Honore’s enlisted composer Alex Beaupain to write the songs for “Beloved” after having worked with him on their earlier film, “Love Songs.” Honore explains in the film’s production notes that he loves “…the spirit of musical comedies …. There is always the possibility that a lyrical moment will come to redeem an every day tragedy.” Honore continues by saying that the songs are like “inner monologues.”
“Beloved” isn’t your modern American “Glee”-type of musical comedy. Characters do burst into song but usually over emotional longings, often on a darker note. Madeleine’s “Golden Age” of carefree love in the 1960’s becomes much more lyrically complex for Vera during the 1990’s, as the AIDS virus raged.
Yet it’s the talented cast and tale that keeps viewers entranced even through some startling funny and sad twists and turns. Christophe Honore’s gifted cast of Catherine Deneuve, Chiara Mastroianni, Ludivine Sagnier, Milos Forman, Louis Garrel, and Paul Schneider are natural and emotionally resonate in their song delivery. “Beloved” may not soar to the heights of other classic modern day musicals, but it’s certainly a compelling piece with a stellar cast.
“Beloved” is 135 minutes and Not Rated. It opens August 17 in Los Angeles before expanding to select cities.
For other film reviews by Lori Huck, check out:
‘Love Crime’ Film Review: A Pseudo-Sexual Cat and Mouse Thriller
‘The Awakening’ Film Review: A Good, Scary Ghost Story