Monday, October 31, 2011

Just Singing in the Rain: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Just in time for a snow storm in October, I picked up a copy of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, another French film evoking rain in the title.

It’s 1957 in France, and 17-year-old Genevieve, who works in her mother’s boutique shop “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” falls in love with 20-year-old Guy, who works in a garage across the street. But Genevieve’s mother doesn’t want to see her married that young and Guy is drafted into his two years of military service. How will their love story end?

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is not a musical in the traditional sense where some is spoken with the occasional breaking out into song. Instead, every single word is sung. But it’s not an opera where everything is told in song because these aren’t really songs - they’re just regular dialogue that’s sung instead of spoken, which makes for some awkward lines like “a demain” or “merde” that is sung alone. I kept thinking while watching the movie how difficult it must have been for the actors to figure out how they would effectively sing one- or two-word lines without sounding ridiculous - or without sounding like they were simply speaking. But more so, I feel like something important is lost by having every single word sung like that. Typically, musicals, while yes being ridiculous and unrealistic (not a real criticism coming from me because I like them in part for this reason), use songs to convey that something that just happened and evokes some strong feelings - whether it’s excitement, anger, love, or what have you. But when you sing “see you tomorrow” in a scene of typical everyday events and then sing “I will wait for you” when tearfully departing from your lover, somehow the emotional impact of this second “song” is negated, or at least lessened. However, I will say that the instrumental music in the movie is absolutely beautiful, despite the lack of what I’d actually call song lyrics.

As for the story itself, it’s so predictable - not just the end outcome but every step along the way is easily and accurately guessed within the first half hour, if not sooner. The cinematography is beautiful, with some interesting shots, bright colors, and occasional scenic view, but that’s not enough to hold an entire movie. I’m missing how this movie received so much praise - “An instance classic” (New York Magazine); “An unmitigated triumph! A unique masterpiece! Inescapably addicting!” (New York Post); or “... A beam of movie heaven!” (Rolling Stone) - as I didn’t think it was that good. It was also listed in Steven Jay Schneider's book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, but I think I could have lived without seeing it.

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