Cannes (Closing Film) – Beloved is an all-star French musical which spans nearly half-a-century in its characters’ lives. Paul Martin is a perennially ill-tempered Englishman with a beaky conk and an ongoing feud with Islington council. This review is an account of what happened when they met.
Probably my favourite movie of last year’s Cannes was Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats (just out in the UK. Go see it!), which saw the then-21-year-old auteur fashioning a witty, splendidly-phrased account of the power of dumb beauty, with the plot focusing on a shaggy-haired country boy and his bewitchment of a pair of metropolitan hipsters. And if we cinema-adoring viewer-types are the latter, with our tastes and filmic philosophies having been honed to rapier-tipped sharpness, then Christophe Honoré’s Beloved, the closing feature of the 2011 festival, can be seen as corresponding to the former – it being a good-looking sprawl which woos largely by virtue of its beguilingly naive ambitiousness.
Beloved weds light-footed musical form to an octopus of a story, in geographical and historical terms at least, as we trip from ’64 almost right up to the present day, and we drop in on some of the great cities of the world – Paris, Prague, London, Montreal. The expansiveness of those shifts in time and place are more literary than cinematic, and it is no surprise to learn that the biggest mutation undergone by Beloved during its journey from the skull of writer-director Honoré to the silver screen was when he decided to turn what had been planned as a novel into a movie, with the subsequent enlisting of composer Alex Beaupain resulting in another musical from the duo, to follow in the twinkle-toed footsteps of Love Songs, part of the official selection at Cannes four years ago.
Of the cast of that earlier film, Louis Garrel returns – inevitably given the frequency with which he plays for Honoré – as do Ludivine Sagnier and Chiara Mastroianni. And if Love Songs found itself frequently compared to Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, then Honoré has upped the allusive ante this time round, by roping in the star of that ‘60s delight, Mastroianni’s real-life mum, and all-round screen legend, Catherine Deneuve, to lend a hand (and her time-defying vocal chords) in the service of his latest.
It is not just the ever-magnificent Deneuve, the inescapable link to Umbrellas, whose presence triggers virile associations with motion picture past; that is also true of the man charged with playing the elder incarnation of Jaromil, the long-term love of her character, Madeline, he being none other than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest director Milos Forman.
As a movie-maker who took the tried and trusted Cahiers du cinéma route from critic’s desk to director’s chair, it is hardly surprising that Honoré does not shy away from inter-textual references: the young Jaromil and Madeline are ripped asunder when Soviet tanks rumble into Prague in ’68, a real-life incident which both brought the iron curtain down on the liberalising reforms of Alexander Dubčhek and the domestic career of Forman, who had risen to prominence during the Prague Spring, that belle epoch of Czech film.
But if Honoré has an intuition for the contagion of cinematic associations, also evinced by his handling of the, by turns, sprightly and wistful tuneful interludes, then his eye for historical authenticity is rather more suspect. There are no particular discrepancies in terms of the look and feel of the initial section of the film, set between 1964 and ’78, when footwear larcenist-turned-call girl Madeline is played by the ever-impressive Sagnier, and the role of doctor Jaromil is filled by Rasha Bukvic (who is far dourer than his future-self Forman, as well as about eighteen inches taller too). But it is when the biggest chronological leap of the entire film is undertaken, up to 1997, that the costuming certainly goes a bit skew-whiff.
Opening in a basement club in London, we are treated to the first meeting between Madeline’s daughter Véra (Mastroianni) and American drummer Henderson (Paul Schneider), two drifting souls in a city which is so fluid a nexus for people of all nationalities. There is no problem with Honoré’s depiction of their alighting upon the deep, problematic bond that mirrors the one which chains Véra’s mother to Jaromil, but the 21st century styling of the scene – skinny jeans, trilbies, keffiyahs are the accoutrements of the revellers – is jarring. Although the director has explicitly stated that he does not particularly treasure authenticity, simply shrugging your shoulders and saying “I can’t be arsed,” isn’t really a convincing excuse for such slackness.
What Honoré is really interested in is using time-worn filmic forms, acquired by his magpie eye, to create an account of the destructive power of love, where even the historical traumas (Prague in ’68, the spectre of AIDS, the tumbling towers of ’01) seem corporeal reflections of emotional wounds of these often self-centred characters. While ideological ideas reside just beneath the surface (for example, have the indulgences of the ‘me’ generation who grew up in the post-war boom years made life more difficult for their offspring?), it is the innocent bravado of Beloved which gives this musical its mojo.
Rating on a scale of 5 dancing shoes: 4
Release date: UK = TBC; US = TBC
Directed by: Christophe Honoré
Written by: Christophe Honoré
Cast: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier, Paul Schneider
Rating: UK = TBC; US = TBC
Running time: 145 minutes
A triple-bill of Beloved-related viewing suggestions for you here on Indie (all UK only I'm afraid): Paul Schneider puts in an appearance in George Washington, the debut feature from Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green, while Catherine Deneuve shows up in Je Veux Voir. And also lurking in our free movie arsenal is The Fireman's Ball, the Oscar-nominated satire from Milos Forman.