Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beloved (2011)

"They don't make 'em like that anymore," I sometimes say of the motion picture musical genre, and after viewing Beloved (part of 2012's BAMcinématek line-up) I might add "...and here's an example why." Ouch. It's never a pleasure to critique the alluring and iconic Catherine Deneuve, especially as she's an excellent example of how international cinema treats older actresses better than Hollywood. Ping-ponging back and forth between the 1960s, '70s and '90s, Beloved shares more with the Bollywood musical than it does with an MGM 1950s extravaganza or even French new-wave musicals (such as the classics The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, both directed by Jacques Remy, both starring Catherine Deneuve). Characters sidebar their dilemmas with casual singing asides. The idea that it's Deneuve singing (or lip-synching) in a French film suggests a modern-day Remy movie, but the songs are insubstantial, instantly forgettable. It adds to the fancy of the film but not the substance, and when the subject matter turns from the whimsical froth of the 1960s (including Denueve's oh-so-casual, almost romantic decision to become a streetwalker when she's mistaken for one) to the more grimly serious problem of AIDS in the '90s, the jarring juxtaposition isn't easily bridged by a song. These aren't tunes that work out of context—I don't have any wish for a Beloved soundtrack CD. Even the appearance of a genuine hit—a French cover of "These Boots Are Made for Walking"—only highlights the dispensable music. Charm lost in the translation...or perhaps the concept.

It's not surprising that the performances are top-rate, only that they fail to elevate the script. Both Denueve and Ludivine Sagnier (who plays Denueve's character Madeleine in the 1960s scenes) are sparkling and glamorous, and casting Denueve's real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni as her daughter in the film lends an authentic mère/fille intimacy. Milos Forman gives his wafer-theen role as Madeleine's husband both gravitas and a heart.

A pity, then, that this cast had not been given more to work with. Real-life political and historical references race by almost uncomfortably with no true connection to the characters. There's more shots of legs and shoes than in your average Sex and the City marathon. The film's epic two hours, ten minutes running time make you long for the film stock and a pair of scissors.

Beloved was the closing film of The Cannes Film Festival 2011. Yep, I wanted to exit the theater quickly after I'd seen it, too.

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