Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg": quaint 60s French musical on DVD

I recall hearing about “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (“Les parapluies de Cherbourg”) during my troubled college days, but it’s only recently that this popular French-language musical (with its famous “Love” theme song) by Jacques Demy has rentable on DVD (Kino as the distributor).  It was intended as part of a trilogy, with the story interlocked with “Lola” (before) and “The Young Girls of Rochefort”.  The music was composed by Michel Legrand. The singing is almost continuous, like an opera.  
The film is structured in three parts, with Part I, "The Departure", Part II “The Absence” and Part III “The Return”, bringing to my mind the program of Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Piano Sonata #26 (unfortunately not heard in the film).
The film is also known for its garish Technicolor, particularly the reds and pinks of the indoor scenes, and colorful signs outdoors, especially at night.  Occasionally, the port and railroad tracks of Normandy around 1960, a more grimy reality, are shown with great visual effect. The opening shot, of umbrellas with huge rain drops splattering them (almost like methane drops on Titan) above stone pavement is quite remarkable. 
The story is that of a love rectangle.  Genevieve (Catherine Denevue) and her mother struggle selling umbrellas in the coastal town, and Genevieve is madly in love with an auto mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), who cares for an ailing godmother.  Suddenly, Guy is conscripted into the French foreign legion to control rebellion in Algeria (which brings up the subject of another classic film. “The Battle of Algiers” (1966, Gillo Pontecorvo), which I saw at the Landmark E Street in Washington shortly after the theater opened in early 2005.)   They make love right before he leaves, and she gets pregnant.
But there are other opportunities in the story for each one of them.  The movie has a conclusion that sort of parallels “Splendor in the Grass” without the same degree of regret. Also (in comparison to that movie), Guy doesn't care that another man will raise his child. (In "Days of our Lives", Will would never let that happen.)   The first wedding scene is rather grand, with some organ music, a little trace of "Prince and the Showgirl". 

There's a little short film "Excerpt from Agnes Varda's "The World of Jacques Demy".  The short mentions the Algiers war as politically important at the time, and even now because of African reaction and resentment of colonialism. 

Picture: Bayeux France in 2011, pretty much as it looked when I was there in 1999 and lost my rent car keys at the William the Conqueror museum,  Wikipedia attribution link. Bayeux Tapestry link on same page. 

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