CANNES REVIEW: Christophe Honoré's Les Bien-Aimés Is a Little Crazy and Plenty Bittersweet
Christophe Honoré -- director of bittersweet, entertaining pictures like Love Songs and Dans Paris -- makes films that seem very, very French when you're watching them in New York, but merely enjoyably normal when you see them in France. The festival's closing-night film, Honoré's Les Bien-Aimés (Beloved), is a family epic -- as well as a musical and a romance -- that lasts nearly two-and-a-half hours, and sometimes it comes close to being too top-heavy. But the picture has plenty in its favor, too.
For one thing, it stars the mother-daughter team of Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni, as well as fellow beautiful people Louis Garrel and Ludivine Sagnier. And in the Honoré tradition, it's not afraid of overstating its emotions -- like Love Songs, it blends musical numbers into the narrative a la The Umbrellas of Cherbourg -- which isn't the sort of thing that too many American directors (save, perhaps, John Turturro) would even attempt these days.
The movie opens with a shoe-shopping montage, circa 1964, set in the store of iconic French shoe designer Roger Vivier. (Catnip!) Sagnier's Madeleine is a salesgirl there; one night, she steals a pair of Vivier spike heels and slips them on as she's making her way home. They make her look so sexy, a man in a business suit mistakes her for a prostitute. (At an Honoré film, you've got to leave any rigid ideas about sexual politics at the door.) Before long, she's making her living by sleeping with men. But when she falls in love with a doctor from Czechoslovakia (he's played by the extremely handsome Rasha Bukvic; unfortunately, he later turns into Milos Forman), her life takes yet another turn. And after that, others still.
Eventually, Sagnier's young Madeleine becomes Deneuve's older (but still fabulous-looking) Madeleine. She has a daughter, Véra (Chiara Mastroianni), who encounters her own romantic troubles: She has a contentious relationship with a close friend (Garrel), who is deeply in love with her but never quite shows it, or at least doesn't show it properly. Meanwhile, she's fallen hard for an American rock'n'roll drummer, Henderson (Paul Schneider), who's gay.
The romantic travails and tribulations pile up: They include ex-husbands who ask current husbands for permission to remarry the ex-wife. (I hope you can follow that, because I'm not sure even I can.) And near the end of this multi-generational melodrama, which spans nearly 40 years, the proceedings turn quite dark. If I were watching Les Bien-Aimés at home in New York, all the crazy, coincidental comings and goings of various partners might have driven me a little nuts. But here, I found Les Bien-Aimés perfectly enjoyable. That's the way it is with Honoré: No matter where you watch his movies, he always gives you a little bit of l'amour fou to take home with you.