“I am my parents’ sex life, nothing else.”
If you were Catherine Deneuve’s petulant love child, you might go around saying such things too – but only in the movies, of course. It’s easy to forget that Chiara Mastroianni, cast as Vera in Christophe Honoré ’s Beloved , is referring not to Deneuve (her real life mom) but to Madeleine, her fictional parent ( played by Deneuve.)
You’ll want to see it. Or, at least, Freud would want to.
In the animated feature Persepolis, Chiara played Catherine’s daughter in voiceover. Beloved is the first movie in which the two are portrayed as mother-daughter in person. (If you haven’t seen Persepolis, you’ll want to rent it after watching Beloved.)
That Chiara’s father happens to be the late Marcello Mastroianni (La Dolce Vita; Divorce, Italian Style) will explain why that epitaphic “my parents’ sex life” echoes in your head days after seeing Beloved. The actress is a child of two icons who fell in love in the 1970s, staying friends after a four-year romance. The character she plays is a middle-class child of divorce whose parents can’t stop seducing each other, long after Mom has remarried. As your therapist might say, “it’s a lot.”
Milos Forman (the Oscar-winning director of The People vs. Larry Flynt ), plays Vera’s (Chiara’s) seductive dad. He almost looks like Mastroianni, but let’s not drive ourselves crazy here! Without hitting you over the head (it’s more like an affectionate nudge), Beloved goes out of its way to honor a few significant icons of 20th century cinema. So, yes, this is a movie for film nerds – but not just for them.
It’s a film for fashionistas, too. Those Roger Vivier pilgrim flats, worn by Deneuve in Belle de Jour – popularized by that 1967 movie’s success – are a recurring theme in Beloved. Her shoes were just one component of a YSL – Vivier collaboration. Much like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Deneuve created an unforgettable look.
And whether you love or hate Pretty Woman, Beloved speaks to your concerns. The new film asks what happens next when a part-time streetwalker (Madeleine in 1964, played by Ludivine Sagnier) picks up a young doctor on the streets of Paris and they fall in love. Due to its knowing gaze, progressive assumptions, and subtitles, I am really, really tempted to call this movie “Pretty Woman for Hipsters.” Risky, but I’ll put it out there. Let the blogosphere decide!
The transition from Sagnier to Deneuve, each playing Madeleine in different eras, is irresistible. This, after all, is what we really want to find out. Can Sagnier pull that off? She’s not just playing Madeleine circa 1964: she’s (in some inescapable sense) playing Deneuve! This is terrifying enough for some Deneuve fans to contemplate; I can only imagine how Sagnier felt. The verdict? Yes she can. Even though she looks nothing like Deneuve did in 1964′s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (and why would she?), Sagnier and Deneuve manage the transition seamlessly.
And there are songs! Have a weakness for musicals? Good, because Vera’s childhood is full of upheavals. Soviet tanks rolling through Prague in 1968. Parents catching one another in flagrante in the 70′s. The songs are pretty enough to offset (and make you appreciate) how much anxiety is in the air.
As an adult, Vera tries to become more than her parents’ sex life. Then she gets involved with an American drummer (Paul Schneider) who disrupts her rocky yet viable love affair with a Paris admirer (the eminently appealing Louis Garrel.) This triangle isn’t the strongest point in the story. Deneuve’s character – who’s got something better going on – keeps the film focused.
“Beware the cool mom”, Beloved seems to say.