One minute, Ludivine Sagnier is moving down a Paris street — she’s a shop girl in a shoe store, it’s 1963 — and the next she’s breaking into a jangly Yé-yé inner song-o-logue about love.
Welcome to Christophe Honoré’s Beloved, a swirling, decades-spanning romance in which the actors walk and talk just like in real life, and then suddenly start singing — expressing their deepest worries and desires to the buoyant backbeat of Alex Beaupain’s bouncy pop rock. (With some Bo Diddley, the Smiths and a Francophone These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ thrown in for good measure.)
Sagnier is one of three daunting actresses at the heart of this charming but increasingly melancholy tale. She’s Madeleine, who almost accidentally becomes a prostitute and then tumbles into amour with a young doctor (Rasha Bukvic) visiting from Czechoslovakia. They marry, move to Prague, have a daughter. And then the Russian tanks roll in, and it’s back to Paris. The teenage girl, Vera, grows up, to be played by Chiara Mastroianni — a woman with a similarly restless spirit and taste for love, but living in different, more complicated times.
And then there’s Mastroianni’s real-life mother, Catherine Deneuve, who is Madeleine older and wiser (the Czech director Milos Forman plays her older ex). Deneuve is no stranger to the uniquely French movie musical genre that Honoré honors here — it’s impossible not to think of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg as she and her castmates shuffle and swoon. But the lyricism is shot through with sadness, loss.
Beloved spans 45 years, shifting from Paris to Prague to London to Montreal, and it boasts an especially strong performance by Paul Schneider as a gay American playing in a rock band in ’70s London whom Vera can’t help but fall for. It’s a film full of turbulence and passion, as a mother and daughter embark on their separate journeys — their pasts and futures, their happiness and sorrow, intertwined.