Starring: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Ludivine Sagnier, Milos Forman
Director: Christophe Honore
Category: III (French, English and Czech)
At first sight, Beloved appears thoroughly French. It has a cast of Gallic divas, Parisian streetscapes and a soundtrack bursting with snazzy chansons.
But Christophe Honore's film also pays homage to (or steals from, depending on one's view) sources as varied as Belle de Jour, The Red Shoes, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and the Czech New Wave, in the shape of filmmaker Milos Forman playing a character named after his fellow director Ivan Passer. And apart from scenes in Paris and Prague, London is also featured - in scenes shot with the help of Ken Loach's Sixteen Films.
Mixing such geographical and aesthetical scope with an epoch-spanning narrative - the story begins in the 1960s and ends in the 2000s - Honore has certainly envisioned this 2?-hour piece as a creative tour de force. But more is less here as the scale of the project undermines Honore's sense of emotional investment, rendering Beloved a sprawling Euro-pudding rather than a sensual epic.
At the heart of Beloved is the mother-and-daughter pairing of Madeleine and Vera (played by real-life mother and daughter Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni, above), both seared by similar traumas involving ill-fated romances with foreigners.
The former was once a young frivolous saleswoman (this version played by Ludivine Sagnier) who somehow drifted into part-time prostitution, a job that led her to wed a Czech intellectual client, to relocate to Prague at around the time of the Russian invasion, and eventual divorce and return to France.
Vera, meanwhile, grew up to be as confused in love as her mother, struggling to separate from a temperamental fellow schoolteacher (Louis Garrel), while falling for a gay American musician (Paul Schneider).
Returning to the structure that made a hit out of his previous musical drama, 2007's Love Songs, Honore sets the story on a downward spiral, as what appears to be a dainty retro-style comedy falls into darker territory as death and desolation set in.
What made Love Songs click is the realistic empathy it characters evoked. Beloved, however, suffers from an uneven tone and a general loss of focus.
Honore's decision to weave historical events into the narrative is one case in point about the empty gesturing towards stirring artistic grandeur: the Prague Spring and the September 11 attacks, for example, are both employed as backdrops to the protagonists' personal drama, without really adding anything into their predicaments. Beloved has style - even if it stems from the work of others - but lacks substance.
Beloved opens today