CANNES 2011 Q&A: 'The Beloved' Director Christophe Honore

"The Beloved" filmmaker talks to THR about working with real-life mother and daughter Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni and whether the film is a tragedy or a comedy.

After regaling the Festival de Cannes with Love Songs in 2007, director Christophe Honore is back spreading the lyrical love at the festival with his closing night film The Beloved. The musical movie stars Catherine Deneuve and real life daughter Chiara Mastroianni as a mother-daughter duo over four time periods and several cities. Honore has teamed up with his usual band of young French actors Mastroianni, Ludivine Sagnier and Louis Garrel, plus Deneuve, American actor Paul Schneider and Milos Forman in a rare role in front of the camera. The melodic romp from the 1960s to today heads from Honore’s familiar film zone Paris to Prague, London and Montreal. Honore talked to France Correspondent Rebecca Leffler about shooting with cinema legends, taking trips through time and closing the festival in song and in style. 

The Hollywood Reporter: Let’s start from the beginning, where did the idea to make the film come from?

Christopher Honore: I wanted to make another musical comedy after Love Songs. I also wanted to make a more Romanesque film that told a story over a long period of time -- this one spans 45 years. I had a great desire to make another musical, but this time I wanted to be more ambitious.

THR: You collaborated again with Love Songs songwriter Alex Beaupain. What was the collaboration like?

Honore: We worked a bit differently this time. I wrote the scenes and sent them to him little by little to translate the dialogue into songs. All of the songs are original. The album will be released around the same time the film comes out in France in August.

THR: While the characters do frolic around Paris singing in Love Songs, it’s a rather tragic and depressing story. Is The Beloved more of a comedy or a tragedy?

Honore: There are two love stories in the film -- one is more optimistic, more of a sentimental comedy. It’s the storyline for Catherine Deneuve’s character, and Ludivine Sagnier who plays her when she’s younger starting in the ‘60s before Catherine takes over in the ‘90s. The other love story is more tragic. It’s Chiara Mastroianni’s character and it starts in the 1980s. I wanted to show how the ‘60s were much lighter than the next generation. This is a very colorful film that’s very different from Love Songs and its Parisian world that was rather naturalistic -- this is more Romanesque. 

THR: You’re back with your usual crew -- Ludivine Sagnier, Chiara Mastroianni, Louis Garrel - is it hard to shoot the same actors playing different roles? 

Honore: It’s actually easier because we all know each other. The actors have confidence in me to let me lead them to unexpected things. For example, we played with Ludivine’s physical transformation since her character ages around 20 years throughout the film. 

THR: And how did the new kids fit in, namely Milos Forman and Catherine Deneuve?

Honore: It was a lot of fun. The actors of a certain age -- Catherine and Milos -- were new to the team, but they came with years of film experience. It worked well. Catherine isn’t at all blasé -- au contraire, she loves to act, especially with Chiara. And Milos Forman isn’t used to being an actor, so he was happy to be able to do a different job for a change. Milos said he was thrilled to do the film because it was his only chance to be on set with Catherine Deneuve. She was very maternal with him. Plus, their characters are part of the more comedic scenes, so it was fun for me. 

THR: What was it like working with a real-life mother and daughter and, of course, not just any real-life mother and daughter?

Honore: Catherine and Chiara are mother and daughter in their private lives, but they also come from a cinema family. They’re a family who exists as a family of the cinema. Cinema is at the heart of their lives, so they were very happy to work together. It had been awhile since they were on set together.

THR: Your previous films took place, like the title of one of them, “In Paris,” but this film takes audiences from Paris, Prague, London and Montreal. Is this a conscious effort to explore a more international scope?

Honore: Yes -- we filmed all over the world. Paul Schneider has one of the more important roles, Chiara’s lover, and parts of the film were shot in English. It’s more Romanesque this time, though Paris is still a very important part of the story. It’s open to other languages, new actors and new cities -- it’s not just “franco-francais,” it more universal. 

THR: What were the challenges of shooting the same characters through different time periods? 

Honore: I’ve never done historical reconstructions before, so it was new to me. That calls for a bigger budget and a different kind of work with a much bigger production team. I hope that the film keeps something delicate and subtle in the way we’ve worked with the time that passes. Ludivine Sagnier plays a character from 1960 through 1978 when she’s a woman about 40 years old so there was a lot of work going into making the progression believable. Plus, it’s a musical, remember, and they didn’t sing the same way in the 1960s as they did in the ‘70s. 

THR: You’ve been to Cannes before. How do you feel about closing the festival? Are you relieved to be out of the competition?

Honore: It’s great. I’m pleased to have been chosen to close the festival -- it shows that they really like it. For us, it’s nice to come and not to have the pressure of the competition, but instead to open a very glamorous night that ends the festival. 

THR: So will the lucky festgoers seeing the movie in Cannes leave the theater singing?

Honore: I think they’ll leave crying. It starts off more comedic and ends more melancholically. 

THR: So it’s a tragicomedy then? 

Honore: Do you know the French song by Charles Trenet, "Que Reste-t-il de nos amours"? [What’s left of our love?] The film tries to respond to this question. It’s really a film about love and the time that’s gone by -- both romantic love and familial love. I wanted to show how lightness was possible in the 1960s, but how life is more difficult in the 2000s. 

Christophe Honore Vital Stats
Film in Cannes: The Beloved (Out of Competition/Closing Night Film)
Date of birth: April 10, 1970
Nationality: French
Selected Filmography: My Mother (2004); In Paris (2006); Love Songs (2007); The Beautiful Person (2008); Man at Bath (2010)
Notable awards: Best Director Cabourg Romantic Film Festival (Love Songs, 2007); Best Screenplay Lecce Festival of European Cinema (My Mother, 2008)