Don’t get too excited about Academy Award winner Jean Dujardin’s name appearing in the credits for Little White Lies—his part is nearly as silent as the role for which he won his Oscar, last year’s much-lauded The Artist. Writer-director Guillaume Canet’s 154-minute French drama was filmed before that black-and-white novelty, and here Dujardin plays Ludo, a party boy who’s involved in a near-fatal accident in the opening scene and spends the rest of the film banged up in a hospital bed. No statues this time around.
Instead, Little White Lies focuses on his friends, who, Big Chill-style, go on their annual vacation after the accident, though they briefly wring their hands about it. Occasionally they think about Ludo, but mostly they feast, drink, laugh, and enjoy the beach. They all have their own issues to deal with, however. Marie (Marion Cotillard), Ludo’s ex, makes herself sexually available to men (and women), but remains emotionally distant. Antoine (Laurent Lafitte) has texting anxiety related to a former flame. Eric (Gilles Lellouche) can’t hang on to a girlfriend, either. Max (François Cluzet), the well-off owner of the vacation home, is a hothead who can’t relax. And Vince (Benoît Magimel), a straight, married man with a child, thinks he’s in love with Max, his kid’s godfather.
Some are unknown to others, adding question marks to odd, tense, or perhaps too-friendly interactions. Some characters might keep things to themselves, but for the most part these people talk—and talk and talk and talk, until you wonder whether Canet’s editor quit on him in postproduction. This is not an epic tale; it’s not a movie that needed to be more than two-and-a-half hours long. Visually, though, it’s a virtual retreat, between the copious wine and food and glorious views of sand and water. Even if the dialogue occasionally plods, its beauty has a warm, lulling effect.
And there is one benefit to spending so much time with these characters: You may not feel like they’re your friends, but when they ache, you feel their pain, and near the film’s end, that pain is devastating. Cotillard and Cluzet especially stand out; though Cluzet has the showier role, getting to bang about and yell a lot, Cotillard’s Marie is the heart of the story, being the closest to Ludo and eventually breaking down (real tears, bravo!) when wine and pot can’t keep her together anymore. (Something else happens to tear down a wall, too, but that’s better left unrevealed.) Again, though, the coda lingers a bit too long; you go from sympathizing with them to wishing their time together would just end already. Less chatting and crying, please. It’d take some subtraction to make Little White Lies a solid plus.
Beloved Directed by Christophe Honoré
Christophe Honoré’s Beloved starts off jauntily, with “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” playing en français as a parade of high-heeled shoes crosses the screen. A 20-something blonde named Madeleine (Ludivine Sagnier) is working in a shoe store in 1964, and at the end of her shift, she swipes a pair of beauties herself. They’re red, and so seductive they win her attention as a different kind of working girl. A john makes an offer, Madeleine does some quick calculations, and suddenly she’s a “part-timer”—her euphemism for whore. But she never feels bad about it, reasoning that the income boost allows her to buy things she would otherwise steal. As her future daughter attests in voiceover: “She is persuaded that prostitution saved her from prison.” So far, so funny.
But then Madeleine meets Jaromil (Radivoje Bukvic), the father of her daughter, Vera (Chiara Mastroianni as an adult, though briefly played as an adolescent by Clara Couste), and the film starts skipping time periods, with Catherine Deneuve stepping in as the elder Madeleine. (Mastroianni is Deneuve’s actual daughter.) As grown-ups, both women are messes—emotionally distant, sexually loose, probably alcohol-addicted, indifferent to how their actions affect their loved ones (though, ironically, they do a lot of slapping, as if they’re the ones perpetually done wrong). And, worse: They break out into song. Yes, Beloved is a musical, which means that not only are its characters messes, but the film as a whole is a lugubrious French-pop disaster.
Every ballad sounds the same, and in short order—Madeleine is only happily girlish for so long—nearly every song’s a fucking ballad. Madeleine and Vera sing to their lovers, to their haters, to their young selves, to their old selves. The lyrics are sometimes touching, such as when Vera sings about youth and beauty passing by. But more often they’re nonsensical, such as: “Is this Oxford Street/Or my sadness and grief?” (The chorus: “Heaven knows I’m miserable now.” We are, too.) And—welcomingly, at least—instead of dancing, they walk and warble, like the love children of Aaron Sorkin and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The story (penned by Honoré) is all over the place, offering more vignettes than a strong narrative. Jaromil is back in Madeleine’s life! Jaromil disappears! Madeleine moves with him to Prague, then Russian tanks invade and she flees to Paris with Vera! Madeleine remarries, but still sleeps with Jaromil whenever he shows up! And when Vera grows up, she behaves like a drunken don’t-go-there, throwing herself at men (though one she particularly fancies is gay—but that doesn’t seem to matter) and having sex with whomever is convenient. Just like Mom!
HIV becomes a subplot, and when it comes up, you think, Hey, the singing’s stopped! And then: music. Ugh. Sept. 11 also comes into play, and one death, and then another—and just when it feels as if that last croaker should wrap things up, there’s still 20 minutes to go. Honoré seems to want to convey the untidiness of real romances, the zigzag paths people’s lives can take. But to do that, one can’t merely toss scenes together into a film salad—the story should have some structure, even if its characters don’t. Beloved jumps around too much to engage even on a traditional level—and when its players tune in, it’s too easy to tune out.