Les parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg] (1964)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Les parapluies de Cherbourg</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">The Umbrellas of Cherbourg</strong>] (1964)

(Kanopy Streaming, October 2018) You would think that I, being a francophone fan of musicals, would be a natural audience for Les parapluies de Cherbourg, perhaps the best-known musical to emerge from 1960s France and a major influence over films such as Damien Chazelle La-La Land. But I reserve the right to have idiosyncratic reactions, and as it turns out I’m this close to loathing writer/director Jacques Demy’s Les parapluies de Cherbourg. For one thing, it’s a downer musical. For another, it’s a wall-to-wall musical: The characters can’t stop singing even in dialogue scenes when there is no song, no rhymes, no arrangement, no accompanying choreography, no reason to sing. The effect is profoundly irritating. It sounds like incessant meowing for no reason and if I don’t like it from my cat at six o’clock (well, at least she’s hungry—it’s for a reason), I don’t necessarily like it from my TV screen for an hour and a half. Les parapluies de Cherbourg drove me crazy in a way that most musicals don’t, seemingly magnifying everything that usually annoys people about musicals. The reason why I can’t quite bring myself to kick this movie in the trashcan is that it does have some charm once past the meowing. The story is simple and while it ends in a not-so-happy way (well, the guy is happy and the woman isn’t so much and the audience least of all), it does feel rather endearing during its first act, especially before the unrelenting singing becomes unbearable. It’s also immensely colourful, with a portrayal of late-1950s small-town northern France that is affectionate and stylized at once. The ending sequence, as melancholic as it can be, is beautifully shot and doesn’t forget, through a signed “Cherbourgeoisie,” to put its class message front and centre. Given that I followed Les parapluies de Cherbourg by the absurdly ridiculous Au hazard Balthazar, it’s even far from being the worst movie I’ve seen that day. Maybe I’ll revisit it eventually. But maybe I’ll wear earmuffs. [January 2019: I’m happy to report that Les demoiselles de Rochefort, Jacques Demy’s follow-up musical to Les parapluies de Cherbourg, is a far more enjoyable film.]

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