Let's get the hard part out of the way: Most Americans are going to hate this movie, so don't waste your time watching it and our time reading about how much you hate it. It's a very serious, complex, slow-moving (almost 2½ hours long, with no more than ten seconds of action), lyrical movie about messed up people who break into song at nearly every opportunity; and they're not typical American show tunes, or hip-hop, or rock in any form at all. Even when some of the lyrics are in English, the songs sound French, and I'm sure to 80% of American ears they all sound the same. Unless that prospect intrigues you, or you're already a Christophe Honoré fan, look elsewhere. You won't like this movie. You'll probably hate this movie. You've been warned - you have no excuse now for watching it and then telling us all how much you hate it.
Now for the easy part, because now I'm talking to people who either already love Christophe Honoré's movies or are open-minded and curious enough to give them a shot. Beloved (thank God they've set that wonderful title free from Oprah's maudlin clutches) fits perfectly in line after his marvelous Love Songs and haunting Beautiful Person. Each movie in that trio is more complex than the last, and each one is better than almost any movie made by anybody else. Love Songs, especially, has continued to send unexpected waves of joy rolling my way since I first watched it (I just realized) exactly three years ago today.
Love Songs is special to me in part because the core relationship in it is between two men (I'm gay), and it's probably the sexiest, most beautifully realized gay relationship I've ever seen in a movie. One of the leads in Beloved is gay, but none of the core relationships (there are several - as I said, it's more complex) in this movie is gay. I thought that would be a turn-off, but it's not, and here's why: Chiara Mastroianni.
I've seen Mastroianni before (she has a supporting role in Love Songs), and I've even seen her act with her mother (Catherine Deneuve) before, in André Téchiné's My Favorite Season nearly 20 years ago. I've never seen her carry a whole movie before, as she does this one - and she's fantastic.
She and the gay man connect, sort of - as much as any two people in this complicated movie connect. Normally I'd really hate that, because I'm so sick of gay men in movies hooking up with women I could pull my hair out. But she's so good in this movie - her Véra is such an appealing and interesting character - that I don't mind. Getting to see how good SHE (Mastroianni) is is worth it.
The rest of the cast is great too. Deneuve gets earthier and more accessible every time I see her, which is good because I couldn't stand the Ice Princess she played for the first several decades of her long career. Either she's opened up a lot in the last 15 years or so or directors are finally discovering how good she is playing other kinds of roles.
Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier (both also in Love Songs), Paul Schneider (an American actor I'd never seen before), and Czech director Milos Forman in an acting role for the first time that I've seen - all are very good.
But the star of any Christophe Honoré movie, for me, is Christophe Honoré himself. He takes conventional movie elements - comedy, drama, romance, character study, music, song and others - and weaves them together in fresh and unconventional ways that yet never seem forced or precocious. I wouldn't try to explain anything he does because I wouldn't know how to. All I know to do with his movies is relax, let go, and let him take me for a ride. It's always worth the risk.