Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni in Christophe Honoré’s “Beloved.” SUNDANCE SELECTS
Beloved” and “Little White Lies,” two new French film films, both prominently feature pop soundtracks and each runs to almost two and a quarter hours, but neither provides its gay characters with convincing motivations.
Written and directed by out gay Christophe Honoré, the ambitious “Beloved” is a mind-boggling, globetrotting endurance test. Overlong but underwhelming, this musical simply cannot find the right tone or rhythm. The songs, composed by Alex Beaupain, who previously collaborated with Honoré on the excellent queer romance “Love Songs,” are unmemorable, and the film often strains credulity.
“Beloved” opens in 1964 Paris, with a brightly colored sequence in which Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier) steals a pair of Roger Vivier pumps. Her shoes prompt a stranger to think she’s a whore, and she sleeps with him. Later, Madeleine sleeps with Jaromil (Rasha Bukvic), a handsome Czech doctor, who eventually impregnates her and whisks her off to Prague. On the night the Soviet tanks roll across the city, she discovers Jaromil is having an affair.
Cut to 1978 Paris for a bit and then to 1997 London, where Madeleine and Jaromil’s daughter, Vera (Chiara Mastroianni), has a fabulous dance scene in a nightclub. The film picks up here, and when Vera catches the eye of Henderson (Paul Schneider, miscast), a handsome American drummer and former veterinarian, the film intrigues. However, after a cute flirtation, the couple head back to his place where she tries to seduce him and Henderson discloses he is gay.
Henderson, however, is soon kissing and orally servicing Vera in a bathroom. Were it not for Henderson’s declaration of being gay, viewers might think he was bi or even straight; he has very little same-sex contact in the film. Honoré may be trying to address the fluidity of sexuality, but Henderson is largely indifferent to Vera, while she becomes sexually obsessed with him. In one of the film’s most perplexing subplots, Vera wants to become pregnant with Henderson’s children. He insists this is not a good idea, but then they have a threesome with his boyfriend, which is more discomfiting than erotic.
None of Honoré’s characters is able to love the one they are with, nor can any live without the ones they love. This theme is echoed in a parallel –– though largely pointless –– storyline of an older Madeleine (Catherine Deneuve, Mastroianni’s real-life mother) having an affair with Jaromil (filmmaker Milos Forman) decades after their initial involvement.
Honoré’s touch in “Beloved” is heavy-handed. He crams sudden death, AIDS, the 9/11 tragedy, and suicide into this strange melodramatic musical. And it just doesn’t sing.
Marion Cotillard and Francois Cluzet in Guillaume Canet's “Little White Lies.” | MPI PICTURES
The other new French film, “Little White Lies,” also features plenty of music, here in the form of upbeat American pop songs. These tunes are used to manipulate the audience into feeling good about the characters, all of whom behave badly.
Ludo (Jean Dujardin) is hospitalized in the intensive care unit after a bad motorcycle accident. His best friends, however, still take their annual vacation and grapple with their problems. The wealthy Max (François Cluzet) is particularly unnerved — not because of Ludo’s critical condition — but because his best friend Vincent (Benoit Magimel) has just confessed his love for him. Max’s negative response to this admission prompts Victor to keep his secret from both of their wives and their mutual friends. Of course, it creates friction, especially when Vincent and Max are forced to be alone together throughout the vacation.
Max barks at everyone, flaunts his wealth, and is just plain mad at the world, so why Vincent moons lovingly over this jerk — staring longingly at him in one prolonged scene — is a mystery. When Max brings the tensions between them out into the open –– insisting that a child ask Vincent what a faggot is –– it offers promise that the gay character might claim the respect he deserves. The opportunity, however, proves fleeting.
The other storylines fail to catch fire. Eric (Gilles Lellouche) and Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) both have girlfriend troubles and mope about their absent women. Marie (Marion Cotillard) also struggles with relationship issues, but a brief scene of her reuniting with a lesbian lover goes nowhere.
The film addresses how people cope with insecurities and fears by lying to themselves and others but never answers the question of why these characters are friends. It comes as a relief when a truth-telling character chastises them for being selfish and rather unpleasant people, but audiences will grow impatient waiting for them to hook up, make up, or pass out.
Cotillard as Marie does her best in an underwritten role, but the usually dependable Cluzet overplays his part as Max, mugging shamelessly. In support, Dujardin is off screen for far too long. A flashback features him performing in drag, one of the film’s more amusing and spirited sequences. But much of “Little White Lies” is just a drag. At least here, though, the music is good.
BELOVED | Directed by Christophe Honoré | In French with English subtitles | Sundance Selects | Opens Aug. 17 | IFC Center | 323 Sixth Ave. at W. Third St.; | ifccenter.com | Lincoln Plaza Cinema | 1886 Broadway at W. 63rd St. | lincolnplazacinema.com
LITTLE WHITE LIES | Directed by Guillaume Canet | In French with English subtitles | MPI Pictures | Opens Aug. 24 | The Angelika | 18 W. Houston St. at Mercer St. | angelikafilmcenter.com | Lincoln Plaza Cinema | 1886 Broadway at W. 63rd St. | lincolnplazacinema.com