Director Christophe Honoré’s new film celebrates Paris and the complexities of l’amour.
Paris and romance just go together. That is undeniable. In fact, based upon personal experience, I would go so far as to say that “falling in love in Paris” should make it onto everyone’s bucket list, because the City of Lights provides the most magical backdrop for nearly every romantic cliché that has taken root in our collective psyches over the years.
Whether you consider the magic of a midnight stroll with a potential or current lover along the Pont Neuf, the intimate charm of enjoying a warm beverage at a bustling café in Montmartre or the thought of the sexual charge coursing through your veins as you race through the shadows of Le Marais at sunrise, it’s hard to match the romantic promise of Paris.
Of course, there are many romantic cities (and many cities that I love), but few offer the complete package so effortlessly—all neatly tied up in a bow—like the City of Lights. I would hazard a guess that this state of affairs has come to be because the French don’t just love, they love with everything they have—and it is that very passion that informs much of what we have come to admire about the culture and life in the capital city.
Writer-director Christophe Honoré weighs in on this notion with his beautiful new film, Beloved, starring Catherine Deneuve and (her real-life daughter) Chiara Mastroianni alongside an all-star supporting cast that includes Ludivine Sagnier, Louis Garrel and Milos Forman in a rare and touching appearance in front of the camera. Though on the surface it is a musical drama spanning three decades, at its core, Beloved is a simultaneously comic and heart-wrenching meditation about choices. More specifically, it is about a mother and daughter who both emotionally devote themselves to men who are incapable of returning the affection in equal measure for very different reasons.
As in many of Honoré’s other films, Paris is a central character in the drama. Here the celebrated writer/director answers a few questions for me about his own personal love affair with Paris, shooting Beloved around the world and why the notion of the French love affair continues to captivate the world.
I know that Paris is home for you, but as in your previous films, the City of Lights is also a major and familiar character in Beloved. Aside from the obvious, what is it about Paris that makes it your ideal muse?
When I was an adolescent dreaming about making movies, I was trapped in a French province. To me, Paris and film were synonymous. Now that I live there, the city continues to amaze me. When I walk through its streets, I always feel that at any moment, any part of it can become fiction.
In Beloved, we experience Paris visually and musically over the span of five decades. Was the passage of time a challenge to convey?
One of my aims was to avoid a vintage feel. I am not sure that I entirely achieved that. I did not particularly enjoy the aspect of constructing history. I think that in the future I will content myself by filming Paris in the present day.
On the subject of challenges, what was it like shooting this film around the world outside of Paris—in London, Montréal and Prague?
It was a painful challenge. I found it very difficult to adapt my work methods to these foreign production crews. I like to work in an almost documentary fashion, and here it was not always possible.
How did you come to work with mother and daughter, Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni? That was quite a coup.
I wrote it for the both of them—but I’ve worked with Chiara before and I really wanted to work with her again. This led me to work with Catherine. I was nervous to ask them to work together on a film, but they said they had both wanted to for a long time, as it was the easiest way to see each other every day.
What about Paul Schneider? How did you come to cast him, and what was the thought behind making his character American?
It was important that both the mother and daughter be attracted to foreign men—one in the ’60s in the Eastern Block and the other in the ’90s in the West. I had noticed Paul in the Jane Campion film Bright Star. I don’t understand why American filmmakers don’t use him more. I find him to be one of the most brilliant actors of his generation.
The relationships in this film are so complex and layered that they leave the viewer with so many questions about love and romance. If you had to sum up what Beloved says about love and romance, how would you respond?
I have come to be aware that all my films speak about impermanence. Whether it is with love or with sex, my characters are always surrounded by indecision. For them everything is possible but nothing is ever certain. I also wanted, with this movie, to attempt to understand what differentiated my generation from my parents’ generation. My parents connected love and the future with hope, whereas I connected love and the future with fear. This difference of perspective was the starting point for this screenplay.
How would you characterize Beloved? Is it a musical? A comedy? A tragedy? A dramedy? And what is it about the French psyche that makes dancing on the thin edge of unbridled joy and utter despair and hopelessness—as the characters in Beloved do—look so intoxicating?
As Marilyn sang, “The French are glad to die for love.” I would characterize the film as a dramedy or a pop melodrama—but why characterize it?
Why characterize indeed!
Beloved opened in theaters in New York on Friday, Aug. 17 at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and IFC Center and will expand to theaters around the country in coming weeks. The film will also be available nationwide on Sundance Selects’ video-on-demand platf