films simply try to do too much; as a musical that brings in elements of
romance, comedy and drama and spans over 40 years, Beloved is an impressive vision that suffers from its lack of
detail. Christophe Honoré’s film introduces a
number of romantically entwined characters and frames their troubled lives and
loves stories against a range of major historical events, beginning in 1960’s
Paris and moving on to London in The Nineties and then post 9/11 North America.
It may sounds like the recipe for an epic, multi-layered love story, but
Beloved is actually more of a lesson in poor character development. It serves
as a reminder that no matter how ambitious the story may be it’s very hard to
enjoy a film in which you don’t care about the majority of the characters.
At the centre are Madeleine (Catherine
Deneuve) and her daughter Vera (Chiara Mastroianni), both of whom
share the same attraction to unavailable men. The film begins in the 1960s with
a young Madeleine meeting Vera’s father, the arrogant (and fairly unpleasant)
Jaromil (Rasha Bukvic). This opening segment not only sets the film’s
schmaltzy and grating tone but also foreshadows many of its major flaws. The
dialogue is largely clichéd and the characters feel bland and two-dimensional,
making it very hard to become involved in their lives or care about the story
This feeling of being emotionally
disconnected from the plot is even more apparent in the musical interludes,
which frequently border on the farcical and don’t get any better as the film
progresses. At a later section set in London, for instance, the grown-up Vera
wanders the streets lamenting her unhappiness. She sings, “Is this Oxford
Street/ Or my sadness and grief?” but it’s difficult to feel anything other
than mild irritation at the silly lyrics.
While the songs remain mostly ridiculous
throughout Beloved, though, does improve in other areas. Paul Schneider puts
in a solid performance as Vera’s troubled lover Henderson, and the dialogue
appears to flow better as the film progresses. The scenes between Vera and Henderson
feel the most natural and it is subsequently their relationship that carries
the most emotional weight.
Rather than rescuing the film, though, these
scenes serve to emphasise the lack of depth present among the other characters
and their relationships, which mostly feel hollow in comparison. What remains
is a film that masquerades as an epic love story but lacks any real substance
beneath its romantic veneer.