Top positive review
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Who do you love (today)?
on December 25, 2012
Director Christophe Honore has created his epic with "Beloved": a 2.5 hour intergenerational story of love and infidelity, with major French cinema stars, done in his signature style of movie musical. Approaching this as a fan of French cinema but not necessarily an Honore fan, I think there is much at which he succeeds. He beautifully recreates the street scenes, fashions and mores of Paris and Prague in the 1960s, as well as the decades which follow. He gets strong performances from most of his cast. The storyline, up until the end, is plausible and conveys several messages about the nature of love. However, what prevented the film from being a great one for me is one flat performance from one of his stars, and an overreaching event in the plot towards the end that left me feeling that Honore, as he did in "Love Songs", tries to do a bit too much.
Honore immediately captured my attention with the opener, a hypnotic sequence of colorful women's shoes and high fashion that whirls across the screen while a sexy female voice sings a French version of Nancy Sinatra's hit "These Boots Are Made For Walking", proving yet again that everything sounds better in French than in English. Ludivine Sagnier takes over from there and spins her magic, enticing men on the screen (and in the audience) into her web. However, her primary relationship soon runs into difficulties, conveying a theme that is repeated throughout "Beloved": monogamy is impossible, and people should just accept that fact and behave accordingly. Figuring out whom they love and whom they should love is a challenge for most of the characters in "Beloved", but those characters who don't overreact when any one particular relationship has difficulties are the happiest.
Sagnier does a great job as the young Madeleine, but when the movie clock fast forwards several decades and the older Madeleine is portrayed by Catherine Deneuve, the film suffers a bit. I found Deneuve's performance to be flat, as though she were mostly walking through her scenes. By contrast the rest of the cast immerses themselves in their characters and I never felt with them, as I did with Deneuve, that I was watching an actor attempt to portray a character. Especially impressive were Sagnier, Chiara Mastroianni and Milos Forman.
The other flaw of "Beloved" is the plot event towards the end between the characters portrayed by Mastroianni and American Paul Schneider, which I felt to be a drastic overreaction by Mastroianni's character Vera. The two have a complicated relationship, and Honore creates a problem for himself when he introduces these complexities into the plot. Even though the movie is 2.5 hours long, there isn't enough time to explain all that is needed to understand these characters' actions, especially Vera's.
But the positives outweigh the negatives in "Beloved", and the result is a mostly enjoyable experience with several high points. I wasn't particularly captivated by the original songs in "Beloved", but Honore does a great job with well-known songs that he uses in the film, in particular the aforementioned one as well as a slow, offbeat version of "Who Do You Love". "Beloved" is a long riff on the joys and challenges of interpersonal relationships, and shows how the times have changed and relationships along with them.