Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 139 minutes
Release Date: August 17, 2011
Directed by: Christophe Honore
Stars: 3 out of 5
“The Beloved” is a French film written and directed by Christophe Honore, a well-known figure in French cinema. “Les-Bien-Aimes” premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2011 and appeared on the big screen in France on August 24, 2011. In the United States, it was released on a limited basis on August 17, 2011.
“Beloved” is a romantic drama with two related storylines, one set in the 1960s and the other in the 1990s. Two women must resolve their romances in two different eras that are separated by the prospect of AIDS. In their pursuit of romance, they follow similar paths but achieve different results. They play out their romances with some stubbornness, which prevents them from simply giving up.
One of the early scenes set in the 1960s shows Madeline (Ludivine Sagnier) wearing an expensive pair of Roger Vivier shoes, which she has stolen from the boutique at which she works. When she meets Jaromil (Rasha Bukvik), a Czech physician studying medicine in Paris, he thinks she is a streetwalker because of the look of her shoes. Madeline plays along and is soon earning a comfortable living as a high-class prostitute. This subplot demonstrates the casual, carefree sexuality of the 1960s, which sets up a sharp contrast with the more conservative behavior in the 1990s caused by the specter of AIDS.
Jaromil soon falls madly in love with Madeleine and eventually asks her to marry him. She accepts, and the couple returns to Prague, where Madeline later gives birth to Vera. After Jaromil begins to be unfaithful to her, the couple separate, and Madeline leaves Jaromil and return to Paris with Vera.
Thirty years later, Madeleine’s daughter Vera (Chiara Mastroianni) is flying to various cities and living out of a suitcase in hotels,. Vera falls in love with Henderson (Paul Schneider), a gay drummer who used to be a veterinarian. Despite the improbability of a romance, she continues to pursue Henderson with a fervor that borders on obsession. At the same time, Vera herself is pursued by her heterosexual friend Clement (Louis Garrel). Clement is a handsome writer who is afraid to admit his love for Vera, and Vera is, anyway, too dysfunctional to make a commitment to Clement.
Meanwhile, Madeline (now played by Catherine Deneuve) tries to rekindle a romance with Jaromil (now played by Milos Forman). Vera views Madeline’s previous life as a streetwalker with a combination of regret and romanticism. She sees it as adventurous, but knows that prostitution is risky in a modern era with AIDS.
“The Beloved” is not a traditional musical in the way that Americans think of it. It is more like a soap operetta, in which the characters encounter a conflict and sing a simple song about their dilemma. The film does not contain musical numbers in the literal sense, as the characters typically begin lip-synching a song spontaneously while walking down the street. These songs are composed by Alex Beaupain, who has received numerous musical awards in French films.
The main actors in this film perform admirably except for Garrel, who appears stiff with limited expressiveness. They show a range of sentiments and emotions that portray the script in the best possible light. Deneuve is particularly engaging as the older Madeline. The scenes of Deneuve and Mastroianni singing in Paris evoke powerful memories of Deneuve in her films from previous decades. These scenes are especially notable because Deneuve is Mastroianni’s mother in real life. The relationship between these two actresses lights up the screen during these duets.
The first part of the film shows a carefree, lighthearted romance, while the second part takes a darker turn. Honore juxtapositions the atmosphere of these two settings when the older Madeline haunts her younger self. The older Madeline is still wearing the shoes that the younger Madeline wore when she first became a prostitute, making this scene particularly poignant.
“The Beloved” was filmed on location in sophisticated cities such as London, Montreal, Paris and Prague. These locations work effectively in the film, because Honore does not succumb to the temptation to turn the film into a fashion show through the 30 years covered by the film. The clothes, décor and furniture all show a timeless look.