Christophe Honoré's latest film stars some of the greatest actors in contemporary France. Beloved features Catherine Deneuve, who appears alongside her real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, as well as Ludivine Sagnier, who is best-known for her work in François Ozon's racy film Swimming Pool. Make no mistake -- Beloved is about women, although the men are no slouches: Milos Forman, Louis Garrel, Paul Schneider, Michel Delpech and Rasha Bukvic round out the main cast. But Honoré's focus is about love and loss, specifically for the multifaceted and often mysterious female characters we see on screen. We had the opportunity to sit down with the filmmaker to discuss his life and work in order to find out more about his motivations. Scroll down for images.
You’ve recently co-written ‘Let My People Go.’ How did you get involved with this project?
It’s actually really simple. I give some courses at Fémis, which is the film school, and I was the godfather for Mikael Buch, who was the filmmaker. When he was going to graduate, he let me read a screenplay he was going to do after graduation, and I said ‘You’re not in school anymore, you have to stop doing shorts. You have to do a full-length feature.’ He was pretty nervous, but I encouraged him and helped him find a producer.
Did anyone serve as that same inspiration for you?
Unfortunately not. I wasn’t in a school. When I arrived in Paris, I didn’t know anybody. I was lucky because I sent a letter with an article to Cahiers du Cinema, and they offered me a writing position very quickly. But it’s true that I never had a godfather.
Anybody I would’ve liked to have as a godfather, whether in filmmaking or in literature, by the time I got to Paris they were dead. Because it was the generation that was wiped out by AIDS. It’s true –- all the people I admired as an adolescent from an artistic standpoint and in the way they lived their homosexuality –- whether it was writers like Hervé Guibert, or filmmakers like Jacques Demy, or Serge Daney, the cinema critic – I got to Paris and they were already dead. I think what definitely had a big impact on how I write and make my movies is the fact that I was never able to meet any of my idols. I think there’s several of us who are gay, where we never had the chance to pick up the relay. In fact, I looked to retrieve the baton from the New Wave. There was this empty space so I reached to the generation one notch further back.
I think that’s a subject that I was not able to treat in Beloved, and that’s this generation. There have been films about AIDS but they’ve been more about the victims and the disease, but not about the fact that there was a severing, an emptiness that was created, and a cut on an artistic level and in all of the disciplines -– whether it’s photography, whether it’s painting, whatever, that there was this break that was created by this crisis.
You do confront this in Beloved, in a sense, with Henderson (Paul Schneider’s character)…
Maybe from an allegorical point of view, I do touch on it, in the sense that that character cannot have a relationship. It’s impossible for him to have a relationship, and in a way that touches on the fact that it’s impossible to have a relationship with these people who are missing.
What I like in Paul Schneider’s character is that I believe he’s really in love with this woman. And I think that’s something in terms of where homosexuality is currently –- we’ve begun to make movies about gay characters that are able to be in love with women. Because I’m part of a generation where you can have indecision; indecision can take the lead. And in fact that’s something for people to come to terms with, that your sexuality does not close you in on something that is finite and specific. I mean, 20 years ago if you made a movie of a homosexual falling in love with a woman, it would have been reactionary. The message might have been perceived that ‘real feelings’ can only happen between a man and a woman, rather than two men. And in fact, I’m very interested in the relationship of homosexuals with women today. I think there’s something to say in that arena. Maybe it comes out of the fact that I became a father, but homosexuality is not in fact just a man’s world.
Now let's go to a completely different place. How do you incorporate songs into your films?
While I’m writing the screenplay, I send pieces of dialogue to Alex Beaupain, who turns them into song. It’s as I move forward in the screenwriting process, the songs are being integrated into it. During the editing process, I cut three songs. But I would say the balancing act between the spoken exchanges and songs is not set out and concrete. I know from Love Songs that the first two or three songs in the movie are hard for the audience to accept, so it’s good to start off with songs that are light and airy and don’t have a major impact in what’s going on.
There’s always people who tell me there’s too many songs, like my producer for instance. And he’s right, but at the same time I kind of like it. It’s what gives the film it’s unusual and particular shape, and that’s what I look for first and foremost as a filmmaker. To invent film structures which are new and really belong to me. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to keep doing musical comedies, because it’s really difficult. Everything is difficult in film, but it’s very labor intensive to do in song.
This film spans 45 years. Did you want to hit specific notes during these periods of time (e.g., the Russian occupation of Prague, 9/11, etc.) or was this not your intention, really?
It wasn’t the larger and bigger plan of the film to tell the individual destinies of the characters. There are a few historical pillars throughout the film but it’s more about the passage of time rather than focusing on a specific period. At the end of the day, it says something about French society but it’s more through its female heroines.
Notably you have two French women who are systematically falling in love with foreign men. In the 60s, France was attracted to the Eastern Bloc, and I think there was disillusionment that happened when they became aware of the totalitarian aspect [there]. In my generation, we were attracted by the West, by America. And our disillusionment was less ideological, but the fact that the West had enemies, which came into fruition on September 11… The fact that different enemies come to the fore at different times –- I know it’s a gross characterization but it’s in there. I think if the film does have a historical, allegorical value, it’s less the Russian tanks and 9/11 and more the love lives of heroines in the film.
'Beloved' is currently playing in New York.
See the trailer below:
See a slideshow of scenes from the film below: