Often, you’re lucky if you get a single great scene in a movie, and Christophe Honoré’s latest messy melodrama has exactly one memorably magnificent sequence. The year is 1997, the city is London, and the place is a smoky, dimly lit bar. Some skinny-jeans hipster band pounds out a throbbing version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love,” and a half-Czech, half-French woman named Vera (Chiara Mastroianni) is swaying back and forth. As the group drones onstage, she flirts with the drummer (Paul Schneider), then suddenly breaks into an athletic dance. Moody dudes lift Vera above their heads as she dives into others’ sinewy arms, with the film rhythmically cutting to each swooping move. There’s palpable heat emanating from this four-minute interlude of erotic rock & roll liberation—a burst of joie de vivre that only highlights how freeze-dried everything else feels.
Not that Beloved’s era-spanning, globe-trotting narrative lacks for ingredients. Over the next 139 minutes, Honoré will pack high-heel fetishes, the ’68 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, AIDS, 9/11, Milos Forman, an ode to the oldest profession in the world, the inhuman beauty of both Ludivine Sagnier and Louis Garrel and, regrettably, Alex Beaupain’s bubblegum-pop musical numbers (a recurring motif since 2007’s Love Songs) into his dual tales of amour fou. Even with Gallic neomusical royalty like Catherine Deneuve joining in the fray, the whole endeavor reeks of the filmmaker throwing everything against the wall yet barely making anything stick. “Your charm is quickly fading,” quips one character to another. You’d think she was speaking to someone behind the camera.
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