Milos Forman, Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni in Christophe Honoré’s Beloved
Photo credit: Jean-Claude Lother. A Sundance Selects release.

A fixture on the film festival circuit, writer/director Christophe Honoré’s films include In Paris, Love Songs, Making Plans for Lena and La belle personne. His latest film Beloved is a musical romantic drama starring Catherine Deneuve, her daughter Chiara Mastroianni , Ludivine Sagnier (who play’s Deneuve’s character as a younger woman), Louis Garrel, Paul Schneider and director Milos Forman. Sort of an affectionate nod to films like The Umbrell’s of Cherbourg, Beloved examines the love lives of two women, Madeleine (Sagnier and Deneuve) and her daughter Vera (Mastroianni), from Paris to Prague to London and Montreal between 1964 and 2008. Beloved opens today in limited release and I spoke with Mr. Honoré via email earlier this week to talk about his new film.

Craig Kennedy: What is it about using songs at key emotional moments in a film that appeals to you – what does it allow you to convey that you couldn’t with ordinary dialogue?

Christophe Honoré: The songs allowed me to bring a modern structure to the film. They break the illusion of realism and force the audience to distance itself. The songs are not performers’ numbers. They bring an introspective quality to the intrigue. I am interested in using them to move the spectator, rather than impressing them.

Craig: Godard once called musicals “the idealization of cinema.” What do you think he meant?

Christophe: I think Godard meant that musical comedies were a Hollywood fetish, that they were a showcase for their star athletes.

Craig: What are some of your favorite musicals and why? Do you think musicals will ever again become as popular as they once were? Would you ever consider doing a big, splashy, colorful musical in a more traditional sense?

Christophe: I have a preference for Cukor and Minelli’s musical comedies. However I think they belong to a specific era, the days of Hollywood splendor. That time no longer exists. It is difficult to avoid irony or nostalgia when one takes on this genre. I don;t feel that with my film I am part of this legacy. My film is more part of a French tradition of cinema, which included popular songs ( Renoir, Truffaut, Eustache…).

Craig: It’s tempting to idealize the 60s as a freer time sexually compared to 2012 which has different attitudes and very real dangers, but Beloved seems to suggest ultimately there can be consequences and difficulties in either case. Given a choice would you choose to be in love in 1964 when Beloved begins or in 2008 when it ends? Christophe: I hope most of all to fall in love in 2020, when I will no longer attract anyone.

Craig: Though Beloved spans 50 years and several countries, you’ve said you didn’t want to get too carried away in period or place reconstruction. What was your thinking behind that decision?

Christophe: I was more interested in exploring the passage of time rather than individual destinies within specific periods.

Craig: At the end of the film, Clement asks Madeline whether it’s better to love or to be loved and she decides to be loved is best. Then she returns to a song her character sang at the beginning of the film and in English the lyrics translate to something like “I can live without you, but I can’t live without loving you.” Those two ideas seem to conflict with each other. Do they or are you just conveying something more complex about the nature of love?

Christophe: I don’t really think that these ideas are conflicting… That being said, I don’t think I am an expert on love. My ex lovers would confirm that. But that is wonderful when one talks about love, because every one hears what they want to hear.

Craig: Tell me about the casting of Catherine Deneuve. How were you able to get this international cinematic treasure in your film- and what was she like to work with on the set? Were you intimidated at all by her status as a legend? Since she lived through the 1960s, did she give you anything to help you build the character of Madeleine. or was Madeleine already full formed in the screenplay?

Christophe: Catherine’s position on the set was more one of chiara’s mother than one of film legend. Having worked with Chiara on several films and being quite close to her facilitated working with Catherine. I certainly allowed myself to approach her in a way that I might not have had Chiara not been there.

Craig: Was either Catherine or Chiara cast first or did you want both of them to play mother/daughter from the start?  What do you think their real life relationship brought to the roles?

Christophe: I wrote it for the both of them. But first and foremost was my desire to work with Chiara, and that led me to work with Catherine. I was a little nervous about asking them to work together on a film, but they told me they have dreamed for a long time about sharing a set. Especially Catherine, who said it was the easiest way for her to see her daughter every day.

Craig: What was your inspiration for casting Milos Forman as Jaromil? As a director, he’s as legendary as Deneuve is as an actress. What was it like working with him?

Christophe: I am not familiar with Czech actors. I am more familiar with Czech filmmakers, so I thought of him from the get go. He was such a pleasure to work with. He was always relaxed and easy. He didn’t have any anxiety about acting, because he’s not an actor.

Craig: Today it seems like there is more international attention on French cinema than in a long time. Is that a coincidence or do you really see something of a Renaissance happening in your country for the last few years? If so, what do you think explains it?

Christophe: I don’t share your point of view. I think what is prized in French cinema today does not correspond to my taste, and I despair over many of the current French films that are distributed internationally. I think that French cinema is going through a crisis, and I am dubious about its future.

2 Responses to “French writer/director Christophe Honoré on his new musical romance “Beloved””

  1. A wonderful interview here! I have not yet seen BELOVED but will in the near future. I am a big fan of Honore’s LOVE SONGS! What the esteemed director says about international release of French movies seems telling.

    Really loved this question and answer:

    Craig Kennedy: What is it about using songs at key emotional moments in a film that appeals to you – what does it allow you to convey that you couldn’t with ordinary dialogue?

    Christophe Honoré: The songs allowed me to bring a modern structure to the film. They break the illusion of realism and force the audience to distance itself. The songs are not performers’ numbers. They bring an introspective quality to the intrigue. I am interested in using them to move the spectator, rather than impressing them.

  2. It was odd doing this interview by email. I wish I’d had the opportunity for follow-up questions, especially those that didn’t quite have the response I was hoping for. Having said that, I dislike telephone interviews and I dislike interviews with interpreters and this would’ve been both, so I think it worked out OK.

    My favorite answer was his response to my last question where I tried to get him to open up about this interesting time in French cinema and he wound up totally disagreeing with me and lamenting the movies that were coming out of his country to America! I have no idea how I would’ve followed up that question even if I’d had a chance!

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