Christophe Honoré’s Beloved is a musical which follows a mother and daughter through thirty years of life, love and loss. Boil it down to a sentence along those lines, and this film is intriguing. Stretching it out to 135 minutes, however, is like being slowly beaten with a wet fish. It goes on far too long, you’re never quite sure of the logic behind it, and it leaves you with an intense feeling of dissatisfaction.
The film opens in the 60’s as Madeleine (Ludivine Saignier), an assistant in a shoe shop, decides to turn to part-time prostitution in order to pay for expensive clothing. Apparently, this or thievery were the only two options open – presumably there were very few paper rounds in Paris back then. 30 years later Madeleine’s daughter Anna (Chiara Mastroianni) is making all the same mistakes as her mother, flitting between two potential love interests – teacher Clément (Louis Garrel) and American drummer Henderson (Paul Schneider).
The problems are rife almost immediately – considering this film is almost entirely about love, it’s disappointing that the relationships are the weakest part of the plot. The Czech doctor that Madeleine falls for in her youth (played by Radivoje Bukvic and Milos Forman) is quite clearly a slimeball, which makes it impossible to root for them almost from the off. Anna’s love interests, meanwhile, scarcely fare better – Clément is an almost stereotypically angry, brooding young Frenchman, while Henderson’s dorky American charms quickly fade as his whiny side begins to shine through. The whole genre of “woman goes for git” has been done to death, and so rather than being compelling it makes Anna and Madeleine just seem annoying.
However, it’s not just the script that sets the characters up this way; the actors do a pretty good job of ruining them too. Catherine Deneuve (Madeleine in the 1990s) is actually Chiara Mastroianni’s mother, and you would expect the bond between them to make acting as mother and daughter a fairly easy task. Unfortunately not; there is absolutely no on-screen chemistry between them, or between any of the actors for that matter. Everyone walks through their scenes with the same blank, almost bored stare which, presumably, is supposed to represent the inner torment of their souls. Or something like that.
Beloved’s only redeeming feature is its music; which is a piece of luck considering it’s being billed as a musical. There’s some good use of 60’s and 90’s pop music to set something of a tone for both time periods; a particular highlight was the opening French translation of “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”. The original music by Alex Beaupain has a kind of sombre, melancholic ring to it that’s reminiscent of Jacques Brel, and its sung reasonably well by everyone in the cast (even if the subtitling was a bit dodgy in places).
Sadly, though, some nice singing voices aren’t enough to make up for the other bad aspects of this movie. Thanks to its aimless, rambling script, its lacklustre cast, and characters who are impossible to care about, Beloved is one musical that you can most definitely afford to miss.