In the early frames of BELOVED the ’60s Parisian shopgirl played by the resplendent Ludivine Sagnier lifts a pair of Dior pumps at closing time. She puts them on outside and thus begins her chance career as a streetwalker, through which she meets her Czech lover and the father of her child, whom decades later we meet in the person of Chiara Mastroianni, by which time the shopgirl has grown to resemble the mature Catherine Deneuve and the Czech lover the aging Milos Forman.

There are flashes forward and back, and plot complications comic and tragic, and lots of music, because Christophe Honoré‘s great experiment, which he started with Love Songs in 2007, is nothing less than a rethinking of the movie musical. The dominant tone is French movie naturalism, with a special eye on the details of the everyday, but now and then the characters burst – no, sidle – no, shift into song. By which I mean to say that they just start singing, with neither the naturalistic justification of a showbiz plot nor the formal justification of a stylized alter reality, although the visually glamourous and fashion conscious opening does pay homage to the stylistics of a ’50s musical like Funny Face.

The cumulative effect is buoyant, somewhat disconcerting, a little fantastical, yet able to bear dramatic moments of the most serious import, along with the flippant and the romantic. There may yet be something not ironed out in Honoré’s rethinking of the form, but I found it hard not to take a certain amount of joy from BELOVED, while being consistently fascinated with its singular aesthetic.

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