Beloved/Les bien-aimés: I think I hated this movie. How is this possible? Catherine Deneuve, her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, director Milos Forman (!), French singing star Michel Delpech, and Paul Schneider from Parks & Rec (¡?¡) in a motherfucking musical!
Yes, but a meandering musical with an even more meandering score by Alex Beaupain, whom I enjoy on his solo records, but less so in his collaborations with Honoré, and I like this less than their last work, Love Songs, which I was already conflicted about. The script here tries hard for the personal within the epic, looping from sixties Paris (one of several nods to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), to Czechoslovakia for the Russian invasion, back to Paris for some millennial ansgt, then off to Montreal for an AIDS crisis/9-11 combo, and finally back home in France for a final scene in which Deneuve gets a chance to muse about/confront herself from 40 years earlier. The writer/director Christophe Honoré aims for sweeping but it’s more like a mundane vacuum cleaning: there’s lots of noise and moving around, but nothing major feels accomplished and it takes forever.
Below Honoré explains himself.
I wish he could have also explained why he used a HORRIBLE version by Anika of The Kinks’ I Go to Sleep as a transitional device, which serves only to jar me from my quietly building impatience to outright irritation. The metallic, Nico-wannabe delivery conflicts sharply with the slightly bouncy Alex Beaupain score, making me wonder if this was the point, but then if I was getting pissed off to begin with, this didn’t help. And if Honoré was set on this song, why not the original, or how about the Pretenders’ version? The Kinks would have even fit in chronologically with the opening Paris/Prague section and Chrissie Hynde could imbue some genuine melancholy.
And on the subject of song, why the fuck did he put singer Michel Delpech in a non-singing role? Because a seasoned singer would have further exposed the weak songcraft?
Yeah, I’m still not seeing the point of making a musical without putting much effort into the music or requiring the cast to do much more than talk-sing, something that Marlene Dietrich could pull off because she did it with gusto, not in slightly embarrassed whispers like most of everyone here. Shit, Jacques Demy just hired trained singers for dubbing every line of Cherbourg; Deneuve only had to lip-synch for the entire movie, and she gave a better performance there than here.
And Cherbourg, for all its gorgeous artifice and hyper-stylization, gave me characters and predicaments that seemed not just plausible but real. Now I’ve long given up screaming at characters in French films for their illogical behavior – something I engaged in many years ago to the consistently raised eyebrow of a disapproving French roommate – but the behavior of nearly everyone in Beloved caused a near relapse in my shouting at recorded images of invented people. The central conflict of the last half of the film, Chiara Mastroianni falling in love with a gay man with AIDS (Paul Schneider), would have been less of a stretch had Honoré given the characters something more than a spark (which flares into an explosive cunnilingus scene in a public toilet – the meshing of gay cruising and high romance) to explain their quasi-mutual attraction.
Too bad, since Mastroianni and Schneider give my favorite performances in the movie. Mastroianni’s face spills sadness from the pores, and Honoré frames it beautifully. She nearly sells me on falling in love with Schneider, but the script makes it impossible. Schneider’s singing and French are not so easy on the ears, but he makes this work for his character, adrift and afraid, even more vulnerable than Mastroianni. The doomed love affair never really starts, so when it finishes – decidedly definitively and preposterously – I’m left dissatisfied. The theme of “you can’t always get what/who you want” overpowers all else, to the extent that it exists almost standing alone, sinking like a ship waving a red flag for some character development to keep it afloat.
Okay, I’m letting this go. Reviewer Jesse Cataldo sums it up for me so I’ll just move on to a final thought:
Honoré goes out of his way to tip his hat to Jacques Demy’s Les parapluies de Cherbourg by casting Deneuve and with markers such as a crane shot of black umbrellas, as if to tell us that this musical will turn out bleak, as opposed to the opening of Cherbourg, which features a rainbow of colors for its parapluies. Yet the sense of loss at the conclusion of Cherbourg trumps Beloved by leagues. I still feel it!
You don’t have to wear black to be bleak, something Honoré misses but Demy understood to the core.