Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Last night some friends and I went to see Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, otherwise known as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. I've been raving about it for years, so it wasn't difficult to convince people to see it at the Paramount, a grand old theater downtown.

The film is interesting for several reasons. First, it's an operetta. That is, all the dialogue is sung, as opposed to musicals, where songs interupt spoken dialogue and the whole thing is trite and annoying. I don't care for musicals for the most part, but when the first few lines of a movie sung in French are about car repair, I'll make an exception.

Second, the female lead ends up pregnant out-of-wedlock at 17, and yet she is not scorned for it. Her mother even jokes about it. Either mores in 1964 France were less strict than I expected or writer/director Jacques Demy was a bit ahead of his time.

Third, the intense color in the set design and costumes. The film was rereleased in 1994 with the original, sumptuous color restored and it's gorgeous. Pink and green striped wallpaper? Absolutely.

Lastly, the film stars Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo. Dang they are nice to look at in quite a different way than the previously mentioned wallpaper. Also, I love hearing the characters sing their names Geneviève (zjawn-VEEV) and Guy (GEE).

In reading about the film, I discovered that none of the lead or main supporting characters actually sang for the soundtrack. Geneviève's voice is not Deneuve, but rather Danielle Licari, a popular singer at the time. Other characters voices are listed here. I never would have guessed. Demy did a great job casting voices that matched the physicality of the actors.

The film is a dated of course and at times, laughable to our contemporary sensibilities--the scene where Geneviève and Guy "float" down the street had the Paramount audience giggling--and yet it's observation of first love is entirely relevant to a modern audience.

I highly recommend seeing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (it's available on DVD). You'll likely be humming the bittersweet theme song for days after.

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