It's weird how quickly one adjusts to the constant singing in this film, it's such an artificial and unusual style but it quickly comes to see totally perfect. Sam, it's hard to imagine anything topping Umbrellas though I also like both Lola and Rochefort a lot but I definitely want to see more later Demy, including the one David mentions. Just an aside: Joni Mitchell's song 'Barangrill', with its lyrics about the gas station attendant who sings about whitewalls and windshields, has always made me think of Demy's mechanic.
You like Varda, too! Oh yes, Varda's also great.
My favorite's the sunnily cynical Le bonheur. Been watching some of her shorts lately and they're uniformly charming and smart. Post a Comment.
Monday, March 19, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the most moving and heartbreaking love stories in the cinema, an absolutely stunning musical masterpiece that sets its bright, colorful visual palette and sweet, soaring music against an increasingly bittersweet emotional range.
Divided into three parts — departure, absence, and return — Jacques Demy's sublime musical is the story of a love affair haunted by the separation of war. As in so many French films of this era, Algeria looms large, a tear in the fabric of life, an absence that's felt at home in the missing young men, the years of longing and waiting. The film is an interesting type of musical in which every single line is sung, but it rarely feels like there's a proper song: instead, all of the dialogue is more-or-less naturalistic speech that's simply sung instead of spoken.
Even the most banal lines, like Guy's interactions with customers and his boss at the gas station where he works, are liltingly timed to Michel Legrand's alternately jazzy and romantic music.
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This style can be somewhat distracting and artificial at first but it quickly comes to seem as natural as if the characters were simply speaking. By setting everything to song, it never seems as if the music is interrupting the diegesis, cutting off the naturalistic flow of life with a musical number. Rather, life itself, with all its joys and tragedies, its banal incidents, its great loves and great sadnesses, has been transformed into one big musical number, a minute musical number that encompasses both the innocent sweetness of young love and the much more complex, melancholy, mysterious loves and losses that build up over the course of the years.
At one point during their goodbyes, he says that he knows she'll wait for him, but Demy films it in a way that suggests exactly the opposite. Because she's not in the frame, one is left to wonder if he's being presumptuous, demanding that she wait rather than letting her say it herself. At the heart of this dazzling musical is the revelation that life is not often as neat as the movies, that the romantic ideals of musicals are seldom fulfilled as cleanly as Hollywood happy endings would imply.
Why aren't I dead? She'd imagined that life would be like a melodrama, that she couldn't live without her lover, but she finds that in reality, unlike the movies, memories can fade, life can go on, and there are endings that aren't quite happy, but aren't quite unhappy either, that the sadness and the pleasure of life can be tangled and intertwined so completely that it's difficult to separate one from the other.
Roland comes to the film several years after the events of Demy's first feature Lola , in which he got his heart broken by the title character of that film and set off on the adventures that apparently made him a rich man. Whose fault is it? Who makes the right choices? Was Guy even able to write to her more than he did?
Has a wedding ever seemed as purely tragic as it does here? Even the recurring musical theme that is a part of much of his dialogue returns from the earlier film which was also scored by Michel Legrand. Now he essentially helps himself to the most beautiful girl imaginable. Before this screening we got MAD MEN creator Matthew Weiner who during his talk remembered some of the countless films he saw at that theater decades earlier and they also mentioned the dialogue reference to the film we were about to see on MAD MEN a few years back.
The gleaming white service station where the film concludes is certainly a switch from the musty old garage where it begins and the umbrella shop itself is seen being converted into an appliance store complete with front loading washing machines. Even the friend I had met there who really had no idea what she was about to see liked it very much as well, which made me happy. Sometimes I start crying at the opening of this damn film. I think I was just too nervous someone was going to see me. Not just for the obvious reasons but how the way the moment plays he not only declines to meet her but in shaking his head declines to continue the musical phrasing begun in her question.
Instead the beat just lingers there, uncompleted and with that any bond that was ever there between them is forever broken. He has his wife and son, she has her daughter, Mercedes and husband who is nowhere to be seen. Make of this what you will. The complicated, unresolved ecstasy of the final shot is not even allowed the luxury of a THE END title card as if to remind us that their lives are going to go on after the movie ends, forever apart. All that appears, in the U. While still hoping to take encouragement by hearing from revealingly noncommunicative Guy in the desert, she makes her way with difficulty across her street, thronged with happy, raucous townsfolk, costumed and flaring ribbons and noisemakers for the moment of Carnival.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is not the kind of movie where people die for love. She asks if he would like to meet the little girl. The snow resembles nuclear fallout bringing to mind the nuclear quality of the expanding keyhole opening uponCherbourgat the outset. No one dies, but no one really lives. That, too, represents the musical excitement of a production that, for all its sweet cladding, is, at essence, a very tough cookie.
This is one of my favorite musical films and way up there in films of any genre. That cold reality, combined with the superb music and bright color pallette, make this a most interesting film. He and Legrand did not, therefore, insert the Algerian war into this vehicle in order to mount upon it a melodrama and geyser of songs to knock our socks off.
He was central to a comprehensive array of characters freighted down with an incapacity to pay the price of cogent lustre in their lives. In his second film, Bay of Angels, there is a Cassard-like dabbler with gambling and a woman who heads into self-destruction in being intensely but clumsily devoted to lustre in the form of the roulette wheel. The lovers in Umbrellas writhe within the same demand, and then retreat. The musical expression of their dilemma is graced with purities, and impurities, sending to us a highly tempered impact. I, too, want to acknowledge the great work Dee-Dee is doing here.
Ultimately, I was completely swept up in its romance and heartbreak,even as they were ultimately tempered by cold-eyed realism. That final scene is devastating and perfect. Me too, Pat.
But also, as often is the case, a snippet of any film, when viewed out of context, can be misleading. Thanks, Pat. Catherine Deneuve, like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn, emits in Umbrellas an incandescent poise and verve that convey so much more than a scenario. In being caught up in her domestic distress we are caught up in her cosmic struggles.
Demy was more than happy to let her do this job. Never given much credit for wit, she nevertheless delivered the priceless remark to her fans.
Pierre de Plume …. Peter… Thank-you, very much Peter for the comment and compliment… too! I LOVE this film. The lush colors are a perfect balancer for the rather dramatic backstory that the film tells. Catherine Denueve is absolutely radiant in this film and her every scene and camera shot falls in love with her and I with her in the process ….
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This ia a big wonderful and deeply probing film afforded a big, wonderful and deeply probing examination by Jim Clark…. Thanks, dennis. Legrand is still alive—still touring, in fact! Being so instinctively musical, his logic contains resources of intent he might not want to say much about. I find the lacing in of the music slowly to reveal its power to be one of the most effective uses of the medium ever…. Her talent matches her astonishing beauty…. Might be my favorite flick of the year thus far….
Although inspired by the Hollywood musical, this vibrant and inventive film forges the familiar backdrop of a Broadway show or movie premiere to revel instead in the myth and magic in everyday romance in all its sentimental and banal glory. By inflating the life of a common shop girl into a musical spectacle, Demy succeeds in turning a tedious existence into a fantasy, yet he and cinematographer Jean Rahier and art director Bernard Evein do so without creating a false world. An effusive phrase, for sure, Sam. As I understand it, none of the actors sing their parts, with all of the singing dubbed.
In some ways, the depths of their sense of loss there would surpass what they could muster as a couple. I think Coward and Lean appreciated this paradox in producing Brief Encounter. Demy was unrecognized even by his wife, filmmaker, Agnes Varda as a master of problematics.
The treasures to be unfurled in Umbrellas are, I think, an inexhaustible legacy. The snowy ending and the whole theme of Christmas at the end add to the feeling of heartbreak — there seem to be quite a few very bleak Christmas films as well as all those full of merriment. I like the way you contrast and compare some later scenes with earlier ones, bringing out a lot of things I would never have noticed.
Thanks, Judy. I think Demy, who seems always to have been relegated to the B-list fringes of the thrust of the new wave , could closely identify with Cassard, a shy, unglamorous sophisticate, close to being suffocated by the weight of scruples he could never bring to communicative bounty. He was valued as a witty eccentric, and carved out a career on that basis. His contrarian positioning gained him some respect but little love. And he did not disappoint.
I am a big sucker for that main theme, by the way. Thanks, Peter. I do think Catherine Deneuve was the best thing ever to happen to Demy, a rare instance of his coming into good luck. Had he been more enterprising, and more heterosexual, he might have brought about works with the kind of compelling coherence we see in the association of Antonioni and Monica Vitti.