Film Review: Beloved

This second-rate Jacques Demy homage crisscrosses multiple continents, nationalities, generations, decades and some key historic events in a helter-skelter romantic musical as odd as it is confusing and corny.

Writer-director Christophe Honoré’s Beloved certainly has originality and daring going for it as the saga of a Parisian hooker and her daughter over many romantically stressed decades. Stars Catherine Deneuve, real-life daughter Chiara Mastroianni and Ludivine Sagnier are the important draws here. And buffs may appreciate the film’s bright splashes of Demy color schemes (red, aqua!) and possibly the bursts of music and dance. Beloved does convey an urge to please, but it’s a tedious slog.

As geographically generous as a Bond thriller or tentpole actioner, Beloved begins in 1963 Paris, moves to Prague in the late ’60s, then London in the ’90s and ends up in Montreal in the early 2000s. Or something like that and not in that order.

The story first introduces young heroine Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier as the younger character, Catherine Deneuve as the older Madeleine) in 1963 Paris, where she works as a shoe-loving shop girl but moves on to better money as a prostitute. One of her tricks is handsome Czech doctor Jaromil (Rasha Bukvic), who makes her respectable as his wife.

They split because the Prague Spring tumult is growing, but Madeleine soon joins him in Prague, where their daughter Vera is born. But when Jaromil turns to other women and the Russian tanks turn to Prague, Madeleine returns to Paris. Yet their love survives as more traumas and complications emerge.

Decades later in London, the story of the adult Vera (Chiara Mastroianni) revs up. She falls for handsome American drummer Henderson (Paul Schneider). Her sidelined boyfriend, writer Clement (Louis Garrel), suffers but soon it is Vera’s turn when she learns Henderson is really gay.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, Madeleine (Deneuve) is remarried to the kindly Goriot (Michel Delpech) but rekindles her romance with now older ex-husband Jaromil (Milos Forman) in his hotel room. Other dramas follow, including Vera becoming stranded in Montreal at the time of the 9/11 attacks, a breakdown, a pregnancy, a terrible illness, and a sentimental burial at Reims in France.

The pile-up and back-and-forth of all this challenges, so thanks go to Mastroianni’s Vera, who provides some orientation with voiceovers accompanying the many flashbacks. Throughout, references like those to Sputnik or pop-culture fashions suggest the scrambled time frames.

Viewers who stick around on this long, melodramatic flight will be occasionally diverted by the nice cast and diversity of locations. The less patient and easily disoriented, including those for whom hookers, shoe obsessions and disruptive musical outbursts are not so compelling, may opt for emergency exits.