Catherine Deneuve, left, and Chiara Mastroianni star in "Beloved." (Sundance Selects )
A decades-spanning musical drama about a mother and daughter, "Beloved" is both broody and bright, steeped in amour in all its Gallic permutations — mad, destined, unrequited, sustaining.
In the central roles, real-life mother and daughter Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni bring a chemical spark to the onscreen dynamics, and their compelling performances anchor the story's novelistic sprawl, especially when it falters or loses focus.
Moving from frothy '60s nostalgia to dark melodrama, director Christophe Honoré's film follows characters who follow their hearts, unwilling to accept such potential barriers to desire as marital status, language and sexual orientation. The generational dividing line is the AIDS epidemic, separating freewheeling love from love that bears a heavy cost.
Ludivine Sagnier plays the younger version of Deneuve's character, Madeleine, who in the movie's first leap of plausibility (and a lighthearted nod to "Belle de Jour") begins moonlighting as a prostitute, a pair of stolen Roger Vivier pumps setting off the fateful chain of events.
Handsome Czech doctor Jaromil (Rasha Bukvic), one of Madeleine's clients, becomes the love of her life — and is affectingly played later, opposite Deneuve, by filmmaker Milos Forman.
In the first of a dozen pop numbers by Alex Beaupain, all of them lovely but more mood-intensifying than musically memorable, Sagnier's Madeleine sings to Jaromil in a color-coordinated street scene. Honoré's interweaving of artifice and realism is often effervescent, but a pointed theatricality undermines his incorporation of historical elements like Prague Spring protests.
As impulsive as their roller-coaster love story is, Madeleine and Jaromil are the picture of equanimity compared to their daughter, Vera (Mastroianni), whose agitation is matched by the fevered strings in the score, and whose longing for a gay American drummer (Paul Schneider, excellent) is nothing if not overheated.
In a wonderful sequence, her father tries to inject some cheer in her life with the gift of a pink sari.
The story lines are thin, but the melancholy that Honoré and his cast tap into is vibrant, particularly in Deneuve's portrayal of a woman who has embraced romantic daring and can observe her younger self without regret.
No MPAA rating; in French with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 19 minutes
Playing: At the Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles