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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1964

In this all-singing musical, Genevieve (Catherine Deneauve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) are in love, but their romance is strained when Guy is drafted into the army and must leave Genevieve behind. Pregnant and unsure of Guy's commitment to her, Genevieve must decide what to do when she is wooed by Roland (Marc Michel).

So, wow, yeah, the whole thing is singing. I feel like I exist in this weird space as someone who loves movies where I've seen some more obscure things and I know some random deep-cut trivia, and yet there are these things that I'm pretty sure even really basic movie fans know that somehow manage to be news to me.

I will admit that the singing took me a little while to get used to. But ultimately, it was the look and feel of the film that really won me over, and the singing just became the norm.

The look of this film is absolutely eye-poppingly stunning. I probably only absorbed about 60% of the dialogue, because I was constantly having my attention drawn to the way that a woman's dress matched the paint color on the wall behind her, or the unexpected dark pink of a passing ship in the background, or the arrangement of graphic boxes on a shelf.

I also loved the editing, and one particular moment in which Genevieve and Guy embracing in the street cuts to them in the same pose embracing at a table in a cafe was fabulous.

My confession about only catching 3/5 of the dialogue aside, I also really enjoyed the approach to the story. If I could sum up the vibe I get from Demy's work so far, it would be "Yeah, sometimes that's how it is." Sometimes you love someone who doesn't love you back. Sometimes there's something negative about a person that is beyond their power or desire to change. Sometimes you miss a chance and you don't get a second one. Sometimes you have to make the best of what you have. And if it seems like this is a little bleak, I think that what Demy actually manages to capture is that it isn't bleak. It can be a little sad, yes, but life can still find a way to be full of joy. My favorite line might be when Guy asks Madeline, "Are you happy?" and she responds, "I'm not unhappy."

As with his previous films, Demy balances our sympathies excellently between the leads. We understand Genevieve's anxiety about being pregnant and single, not knowing if the father of her baby is coming back to her. We also understand Guy's shock at returning home from a trying experience to find that the entire landscape of his hometown has shifted. There are no villains in this story. In a lesser film, Roland (sliding neatly over from Lola and into this film) would be a villain. But here he's just a nice guy who really likes Genevieve. And it isn't his fault if we, the audience, want her to end up with Guy. Likewise, the character of Madeline (Ellen Farner) who pines after Guy. No one is scheming, they're all just people who want to be happy.

A very charming film whose all-singing style could have felt gimmicky, but instead creates a kind of alternate reality.