Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

This was a rather curious film. It’s French director Jacques Demy’s ode to the old Hollywood musicals that were only really beginning to die out around the time this was made, and so was full of a great deal of flourishes in the style of the big, loud MGM musicals like Singin’ in the Rain or The Band Wagon. In many ways, it succeeds, as in the vibrant color scheme that just seems so full of life you want every color film to be in Technicolor. Where it somewhat falters is in how, rather than throw in specific songs, as was the style, every line is sung instead.

This does admittedly have the effect of keeping the movie constantly flowing. Not a minute goes by anywhere in the film where someone doesn’t belt out a line, or the musical interludes keep everyone moving along at a nice dance. And yes, while there are also no dance numbers, the actors do all seem to be moving about pretty gently, as though music was playing for them while they were filming, and it’s all they can do not to burst into a full dance. However, this also highlights the biggest problem with the film. While it keeps moving at a steady clip, it doesn’t have the real high points that a more normal musical would have had. There is no scene here that comes close to the euphoric feeling of Gene Kelly singing in the rain, or the sheer romantic delight of Fred Astaire dancing cheek to cheek, or even the great comedic value of Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle trying to put on the Ritz. We’re left with a film that’s a bit too understated for its own good.

I guess this fits the story pretty well, as the tale is of two people from different life paths – a girl (played by Catherine Deneuve) destined for wealth and fame, and her lover, an unambitious mechanic, separated by war, and then prodded by family into taking more suitable partners. It’s the complete antithesis of the traditional American view of Love Conquers All, and while both are undoubtedly happier in the long term once they come to grips with their new relationships, it still feels totally like both are merely settling for their second choice.

I get the feeling that I might like this a bit more on a second viewing, but as it is I’m just left feeling a little disappointed that it wasn’t more than it wound up being. For what it is, it does it rather well, but when I think of what it could have been I’m just left wishing it had been something else.

Rating: ** ½

Note: While Amazon Associates doesn’t seem to want to let me link you to the film in my normal way, it is still available here.

No comments: