Christophe Honoré’s Beloved is an ambitious musical drama that spans five decades and four countries to tell the romantic stories of a mother and her daughter, played by real-life mother-daughter duo Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni. Deneuve stars as the adult version of Madeleine, a shopgirl with poor impulse control who becomes a prostitute and marries one of her johns. Mastroianni is their daughter, the lovelorn Vera.
The plot moves briskly from Paris to Prague to London to Montreal and back, stopping sporadically for musical interludes that allow viewers a chance to get oriented. Unfortunately, many of these ditties come across as forgettable and distracting — a damn shame in a film with such compelling performances. The lyrics are melodic snippets of dialogue intended to propel the plot forward, but since the performers here are actors, not singers, conversations are more enjoyable when they are simply spoken. Beloved succeeds, however, despite these questionable musical junctures, a testimony to the strength of the rest of the film.
Deneuve remains sympathetic while juggling her affections for two men, and Mastroianni brings a beautifully subdued grace to a character desperate for companionship. Paul Schneider offers a standout performance as Henderson, a charming American musician who becomes the object of Vera’s relentless pursuit — even after he comes out of the closet. Honoré takes plenty of swings in this film and not all of them are home runs. The French director deserves props, though, for taking on a work that successfully explores the plasticity of male sexual orientation and treats its flawed female leads with kindness and sincerity. It can be messy at times, but that’s how it succeeds at offering a spot-on portrayal of human nature and love.