Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Parlant des Français...

Nowadays it takes a holiday weekend for me to have the time to watch a movie. This Labor Day it was Jaques Demy's classic The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Like Play Time, this is a movie that's been on my radar for my whole life but I haven't gotten around to until now.  I have nice things to say about it but the people who should hear it are all dead! Not fair, life is.

Indeed, you could say that's the overarching theme of Umbrellas. It's a simple story: teenage girl (Catherine Deneuve) wants to marry boy (Nino Castelnuovo); mother objects. Boy is drafted to serve in the Algerian war, has one night of passion with girl before he leaves, resulting in her pregnancy. Deneuve, fearing that the boy won't return to take care of the baby, entertains the proposal of a rich good-looking businessman, and eventually breaks down and marries him.

When the guy (actually he's name Guy) returns from Algeria he finds his love has moved away, and after a while he takes up with the girl next door, marries her and they raise a child. Both couples are content, but the pain of the separation from their first loves will never heal.

Summarized like this you might wonder what the big deal is with the movie, but I've left out the big gimmick - every word of dialogue is sung to a score by Michel Legrand. Demy apparently was struck by MGM musicals and longed to make some of his own. So not only is it all musical, it's also art-directed to within an inch of its life. There is no interior where the walls don't match someone's costume; there are no characters who aren't attractive. The woman who plays Deneuve's mother, for example, can't possibly be more than 5 years older than Deneuve.

So what it amounts to is a huge showing-off excercise. "You think you can do musicals, MGM? How do you like THIS?" It's insane. We're fortunate that Demy kept three-color negatives to hedge against print fading, because color itself is a major character in the movie and from what I have read, by 1980 the whole movie was shades of pink.

So worthwhile viewing even though it's probably the chickiest chick flick ever made.

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