Reviewed by: Sophie Monks Kaufman

The most engaging musical flourishes in Christophe Honoré’s romantic epic come not from the songs woven incongruously into the narrative but from amusing soundtrack choices. This 43-year-spanning dual love story opens in Paris in the Sixties where, to a rousing French version of Nancy Sinatra’s Boots, young Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier) fits a selection of attractive stilettos to well-heeled feet. It’s a pastel-hued, picturesque world and as soon as the camera rises, it becomes evident that Madeleine is a pastel-hued, picturesque girl. She may slide into prostitution within ten minutes but this can happen when you’re unburdened by restrictive sexual morals.

Her chosen trade gives rise to a nuts but charming series of events anchored to a dashing Czech doctor (Radivoje Bukvic then Milos Forman), a love interest that lasts as Sagnier grows into Catherine Denueve. Meanwhile, the second storyline is kicked into gear by Madeleine’s daughter, Vera (Chiara Mastroianni), who wryly comments on her mother’s antics from a windier, more recognisable world – the Noughties.

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There’s a lot of premise to get through but Honoré establishes it lightly, helped by the infectious perkiness of Sagnier. She disappears all too quickly as the decades are rattled through, bringing us to the real life mother-daughter double act of Denueve and Mastroianni whose warm on-screen twinkle suggests things are going well in their family life. Honoré immediately has Vera fall for a hot American drummer called Henderson (Paul Schneider). Henderson is gay but in keeping with Beloved’s fluid sexuality this is not insurmountable.

A ridiculous and ridiculously amusing “sexual sangfroid conquers all” attitude is the note this film was meant to hit. When Honoré takes the ill-advised step of getting serious it all starts to come undone. The higher the emotions are supposed to be stacked, the less enjoyable and more obtuse the story becomes. It also becomes increasingly odd that Louis Garrel rolls around the plot unaccounted for, like a loose, angry marble.

There’s some attractive cinematography, with a scene under an arch in London lit in a way to make you shiver, but what markets itself as an exploration of love before and after AIDS has only superficial charms. If you like watching pretty people walking around different European cities singing about deep feelings their characters don’t seem to possess, sure, go see it. But if you like 139 minute films to come with a bit of sustenance, there are richer pickings out there.

Reviewed on: 12 May 2012
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A French musical about the contrasting romantic experiences of a mother and daughter.
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French 2011

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