Directed by Christophe Honoré
Christophe Honoré's latest covers 45 years and two continents—it's a globe-trotting, era-spanning, multi-generational epic, a colorful, stylish and sexy tragedy, no less than the history of the second half of the 20th century. It's a loss of innocence story, about how love could survive the Soviet invasion of Prague, but not AIDS and 9/11. It's also a musical. If not Honoré's masterpiece, it's at least the film that's the most him, a sort of mash up of everything he's done before—airy, somber, and all-singing.
The past suits the 42-year-old director well: in the film's 1960s, and to a lesser extent its 70s, his aesthetic feels renewed, his verve and playfulness restored after several increasingly miserable films. Not bad films, mind you, but the energy and vitality he showed in 2006's Dans Paris felt fresh and exciting, more so than the unsmiling dramas that followed, reaching their apex with 2009's Making Plans for Lena. If, in Beloved, Honoré tells the story of the 20th century, he also tells the story of cinema, from the films that influenced him (conspicuously those by Jacques Demy) to the kind of movies he himself makes—as if it's not just the culture that lost its innocence, but also an art form.
The movie opens in 1964, and it's a delightful two reels of Mad Men couture, as a Parisian prostitute and a Prague physician, Madeleine and Jaromil, meet and marry against bright colors and striking designs to the tunes of bouncy pop songs; the women, and the passage of time, are often defined by their footwear: the fashionable pumps of singledom give way to the tasteful flats of motherhood as the couple moves to Czechoslovakia right before the Communists invade.
From there it's back to Paris, in 1978, where the style is more muted; Madeleine has remarried, and Jaromil returns for a visit. The movie will follow this pair of on-and-off lovers (played when young by Ludivine Sagnier and Rasha Bukvic, when older by Catherine Deneuve and Milos Forman) into the 90s, as well as their daughter (played by Chiara Mastroianni, Deneuve's IRL daughter), who bounces from London to Paris to Montreal; she'll fall in love with a gay man (Paul Schneider, always terrific), experience the AIDS crisis, and fly to New York on September 11th.
Russian tanks in the streets might be scary, but they're nothing compared to planes flown into buildings, Honoré suggests; the movie loses all its style by 1997. ("The vintage style has a certain appeal," he says in the press notes, "but can easily result in a sort of fashion museum... I decided not to characterize each period.") Honoré's history of the 20th century is one of emotional freedom turned to limitation. Although, he also allows that this may just be a romanticization of the past, as young people are wont to do. "Why does it take so long to understand," Deneuve asks near the end, that "freedom is the worst offense in love?"
Opens August 17 at the IFC Center