Beloved begins as a candy-colored consumer fantasy in a Paris shoe store as pop singer Eileen warbles a French rendition of “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” on the soundtrack. Ludivine Sagnier and her fellow salesgirls and their customers go about their business in a shop that sells nothing but the pointy-toed, spike-heeled footwear known colloquially as “fuck-me pumps,” an ebullient scene that suggests that what follows will be a cinematic bonbon. But Beloved is a Christophe Honore movie, the writer/director who made the melancholic Dans Paris and Love Songs. This romantic musical that charts the ups-and-downs over four decades in the lives of a mother and daughter follows in that downbeat, darkly humorous and ultimately resonant vein.
The movie begins in 1964 with Sagnier starring as Madeleine, a full-time shoe saleswoman and part-time prostitute whose short-lived marriage to Jaromil (Rasha Bukvic), a Czech doctor, results in an unhappy stay in Prague and a daughter. Back in Paris, she remarries, but the bond she shares with Jaromil is unshakeable.
As the story enters the 1990s, Catherine Deneuve and the great Czech director Milos Forman take over as Madeleine and Jaromil, while Deneuve’s real life daughter Chiara Mastroianni plays their daughter Vera. In a London club one evening with her good friend and still besotted ex Clement (Louis Garrel), she sensuously dances to the house band’s cover of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?,” attracting the attention of American drummer Henderson (Paul Schneider). When the two lock eyes, Vera’s story truly begins. She and her mother are very different, but their love lives run a parallel track. They are both obsessed with men they cannot completely have while remaining loving but indifferent to the men who are in love with them.
To say much more would be to give too much away. This is an epic drama, nearly two-and-a-half hours long that takes sharp turns into unexpected places. Like Love Songs, it is a musical in the low-key, Jacques Demy mode (underlined by The Umbrellas of Cherbourg star Deneuve’s presence) with Alex Beaupain’s songs conveying much of the story.
Honore gifts Garrel – like Mastroianni, one of the director’s regulars – with the most moving song of the bunch, a poignant ode to Clement’s impossible love for Vera. And Sagnier is wonderful in her portion of the film, as Madeleine’s charming effervescence gradually loses its fizz under the onslaught of life’s disappointments. There is no mistaking who the real stars of Beloved are, though. Deneuve and Mastroianni are glorious apart. The scenes they share are downright magical and give Honore’s title a double meaning. “Beloved” are the men they adore who perhaps don’t deserve their strong feelings, but “beloved” is also what they are to one another, feelings that are richly deserved. – Pam Grady