Christophe Honoré’s love is not easy, nor is it conventional. It is dastardly difficult to capture, and even more so to released. In this way, it is refreshingly honest and understated. Les bien-aimés, like many of Honore’s gems before it, stubbornly refuses to be categorised into a particular genre. It is a bit of melodramatic romance, a dash of tongue-in-cheek comedy, and his signature bittersweet melancholy.

The opening is an authentically charming homage to 1960s technicolour: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and Les demoiselles de Rochefort, mixed with a bit of Funny Face. However, the pastel mis-en-scène fades quickly, and our first heroine Madeleine (played by the luminous Ludivine Sagnier) quickly becomes aware of the choices which she must make. These same choices are paralleled in her daughter Vera’s life years later (a top-form Chiara Mastroianni), but with a heightened sense of realism. Both women in different eras find themselves burdened not only by love and its follies, but layered with a sense of alienation in a foreign land. In a particularly memorable sequence, Vera wanders a London night, her sentiments of estrangement and loss echoed by her ambiguous lover (in a brilliant turn by Paul Schneider).

Honoré’s love triangles are not insipid or two-dimensional, but fall naturally into place as the characters act, for better or worse. Moreover, there is no judging eye cast upon their choices, and the songs act as extended soliloquies of the characters’ inner ruminations. However, unlike Chansons d’amour, the music seems less centrifugal to the characters’ inner dilemmas, and I daresay that some could have been omitted entirely. The other mistake occurs with pacing – Les bien-aimés seems less polished than Honoré’s previous work. There is some meandering narrative, overambitious plot, and a questionable foray into sociopolitical themes that seem beyond Honoré’s comfort sphere.

Nevertheless, the emotional weight of the film is satisfied in the denouement, and the contrast between it and the beginning are all to clear. Madeleine transitions from an idealistic young woman, to an older (but wiser?) woman faced with the brutal weight of a love both unattainable and found. It is about women loving and being loved, no matter how inconvenient – or what the cost.

Advertisements