CANNES, France — It’s not often that you get to star in a musical with your mother, but Chiara Mastroianni does just that in director Christophe Honoré’s “Beloved,” in which she shares top billing with Catherine Deneuve, marking their most intimate on-screen collaboration to date.
Spanning from 1963 to 2008, and due to open Aug. 24 in France, the movie is a light-hearted but ultimately moving exploration of the changing nature of relationships, as seen through the lives and loves of central character Madeleine and her daughter, Vera. But Mastroianni insists there is no overlap between their real life and fictional personas.
“I’m sure it must be more weird for you, or for the crew, than for us,” she says.
Though she is the product of a legendary film couple — her father was Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni — the 39-year-old actress admits that starring opposite Deneuve would have freaked her out if they weren’t related.
“I’m the anxious type,” she says. “If I had not known her, I would have been so scared. But on set, it’s really two actresses.”
Ludivine Sagnier, who plays the younger version of Deneuve’s character, says she also blocked all considerations of Deneuve’s iconic career when working on her character.
“I was not doing a biopic of Catherine Deneuve,” she says, sitting next to Mastroianni in a suite high above the Boulevard de la Croisette a few hours before the closing ceremony of the Cannes film festival, where “Beloved” had its debut. Though physical opposites — the blonde Sagnier is showing off her curves in a white broderie anglaise sundress, the brunette Mastroianni is whippet-thin in a black leather pencil skirt and oversize T-shirt — the two actresses share an easy camaraderie. And while Mastroianni fields questions about her famous parents, she was keen to play down her showbiz pedigree.
“At home, life was quite normal,” she says. “I was a big fan of Hitchcock and Grace Kelly, and I was always thinking, ‘I’m so proud because my mother looks so much like Grace Kelly.’ It took me a while to realize that [my parents] had those public lives.”
“Beloved” provides a neat bridge between the two generations of actors. With its acid-bright colors and retro fashions, the beginning of the film evokes Deneuve’s classic Sixties musical “The Young Girls of Rochefort.” The latter part deals with more somber themes, providing an ideal showcase for the raw acting chops that have made Mastroianni an art-house favorite. Her part still required plenty of singing and dancing, though having previously starred in Honoré’s 2007 musical “Love Songs,” Mastroianni and Sagnier are getting to be old hands at the genre.
“It’s not that I’m not scared, but I like to live with the fear,” Sagnier, 31, says of the experience. “It’s like jumping into a void. You have no choice but to do it.”
“Now, you’re almost turning into Lady Gaga,” teases Mastroianni.
While her quick humor and expansive manner conjure her Italian father, she describes herself as pathologically shy growing up.
“When I was a young student at school and there were those Saturday parties where you kiss and dance, I neither kissed nor danced,” she recalls. “I would go with a bandage wrapped around my ankle and say, ‘I can’t dance.’”
Honoré found a radical cure for that phobia by giving Mastroianni an elaborate dance routine to perform in the film, which marks their fourth collaboration.
“For me, that was, I think, even more difficult than the sex scene,” she says. “But it’s thrilling as well, and I know that Christophe wrote it not out of perversion but because he wanted to challenge me.”
Honoré also appears to be vying for Quentin Tarantino’s crown as cinema’s resident foot fetishist. He begins and ends the movie by homing in on a pair of shoes — burgundy lizard high heels specially designed by Bruno Frisoni at Roger Vivier. Sagnier’s character works for the brand at the start of the film, and the topic of shoes immediately gets the actresses chatting.
“I have a few pairs, but I mostly look at them instead of wearing them because I’m not so good on high heels,” Sagnier confesses.
The pair turns more serious when asked about happiness, one of the central themes of “Beloved,” which questions whether it is preferable to love or to be loved.
Mastroianni, who describes herself as a “single mother of two” (she has a son, Milo, with sculptor and director Pierre Thoretton and a daughter, Anna, with singer Benjamin Biolay), says that with age, she has gained a more realistic outlook on love.
“Happiness can be a moment, a glimpse, but you can’t expect to have only that, because if you had only that, then it wouldn’t be happiness, it would be boredom,” she muses.
“If I may say, it’s like orgasm,” interjects Sagnier.
“Are you sure you want to go there?” Mastroianni says, appearing suddenly like a protective older sister.
“I mean…intense emotion,” Sagnier says.
Fearing that her co-star might utter the sort of quote that would haunt her for years, Mastroianni gallantly diverts the conversation.
“Like when you sneeze? Do you prefer to sneeze or to yawn?” she asks quickly. “I prefer to sneeze, personally. That’s happiness already, a little bit. You shouldn’t ask too much.”