Thursday, 16 March 2017

FFF Classic Film Review: "The Umbrellas of Chebourg" ("Les parapluies de Cherbourg") (1964).

Though the film's tagline says "For All the Young Lovers of the World", but The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) is more than just a valentine. This French musical film was written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music and lyrics by Michel Legrand. Set in Cherbourg, November 1957. The film centers on Madame Emery and her daughter, Geneviève, who run a store called The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Geneviève is in love with Guy, a mechanic working in a garage. Their brief romance is interrupted when Guy is drafted to serve in the Algerian War. Suddenly left pregnant and desperate because she has little news of Guy, Geneviève is forced to make life-altering decisions.

The second film in Demy's informal "romantic trilogy", between Lola (1961) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), Demy and Legrand made a unique and crazy experiment: a melodrama entirely sung much in the style of an opera of the everyday, and is displayed through cinematographer Jean Rabier's vividly and brightly coloured photography. Both the continuous musical score and the sumptuous photography contributed to the popularity of the film. Formally the work is operatic, with the plot advanced entirely through dialogue sung with accompanying music. The whole is united by an orchestral score of simple rhythms and tunes that are integrated with the story covering five years. Thus resulted in Catherine Deneuve’s Geneviève singing herself into the hearts of audiences around the world. Either crazily admired or mocked, the film was an international success upon its release and has since become a major reference in world cinema. The film score established composer Michel Legrand's reputation in Hollywood. He later scored other films, winning three Oscars. In North America, two of the film's songs became hits and were recorded by many artists: I Will Wait For You (the main theme) and Watch What Happens (originally Recit de Cassard, Cassard's Story). Both were given new English lyrics by lyricist Norman Gimbel. Tony Bennett's performance of the theme song was added to one version of the soundtrack. Harry James recorded a version of Watch What Happens on his 1977 album Comin' From A Good Place (Sheffield Lab LAB 6). The film would go on to inspire many musicals afterwards, especially that of La La Land (2016), whom writer/director Damien Chazelle has cited as a primary influence and is one of his all-time favorite films.

The film stars Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel and Ellen Farner. The cast gave terrific performances, especially that of Catherine Deneuve who radiated throughout the film and defined the term "Blonde Bombshell".

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg adds a new dimension into a bygone genre with its unique and experimental direction, terrific performances, and its bittersweet yet poignant heart. It may look like the world that we dream about, but it also bravely shows the bittersweet, and sometimes cruel, reality of that world. The film is probably the most daring musical and that's why it deserves all the credit.

Simon says The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) receives:

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