out of Five
Running time: 139
Impressively directed and cleverly edited, this is an emotionally engaging French drama with strong performances and catchy songs, though it occasionally dips too far into melodrama and its unnecessarily lengthy running time eventually takes its toll.
What's it all about?
Directed by Christophe Honore (whose Les Chansons d'Amour also featured the cast performing narrative-driving songs), Beloved (or Les Bien-aimés, original title fans) begins in 1964 Reims, with shoe shop salesgirl Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier) moonlighting as a prostitute and falling for one of her clients, Czech doctor Jaromil (Rasha Bukvic). The pair marry and move to Prague, but split up after the Russian invasion of 1968 and Jaromil's latest infidelity, whereupon Madeleine moves back to France with her young daughter, Vera.
Years later, Madeleine (now played by Catherine Deneuve) has remarried but has never lost her feelings for Jaromil (now played by Czech director Milos Forman), who she continues to see whenever the opportunity arises. Meanwhile, Vera (now played by Chiara Mastroianni, Deneueve's real-life daughter) has her own romantic problems, falling hard for London-based gay American Henderson (Paul Schneider) and remaining oblivious that her best friend and colleague Clement (Louis
Garrel) is in love with her.
The performances are excellent, particularly Sagnier, who shines in the early sequences and does the best job of pulling off the various musical scenes (perhaps due to practise in Ozon's 8 Women) – it also doesn't hurt that she's given the catchiest songs. Deneuve is equally good and there's an added frisson from watching her work with her real-life daughter Chiara (whose resemblance to father Marcello Mastroianni grows more extraordinary with every passing film).
In addition, the script exerts a powerful emotional grip, since we instinctively feel that these various entanglements are not going to work out well for all concerned, while the songs are nicely handled and Honore gets strong use out of some authentic Paris locations (Prague and London, not so much). It's also cleverly edited throughout, most notably in a terrific scene that sees the various old and young versions of the women “meet” on a bridge overlooking the Seine.
The main problem is that the script takes an unfortunate nosedive into melodrama in the second half with sequences involving a perfect storm of misery that takes in both AIDS and 9/11. Similarly, the overall message of obsessive, destructive love is rather a depressing one and the film eventually outstays its welcome at a punishing 139 minutes.
Beloved is an emotionally engaging, impressively directed drama with terrific performances from all three leads, though it's slightly let down by a heavy-handed and overly depressing final act.