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Must-See Movie Reviews From Before the Grave

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

"I would never be able to live without you!"

Geneviève is a young woman from France in the late 1950s. She runs an umbrella shop with her mother, and is in love with Guy--a mechanic at the local auto repair shop. When Guy is sent off to the war, Geneviève must make a decision that will change her life forever.


Initial Impressions:

Simon: Just when I thought it couldn't get much worse than Oklahoma!, I go and draw a French Romantic/Tragedy musical about an umbrella shop. Yeah. It seems like a film that's been designed with my hatred in mind. Still though Oklahoma! did surprise in the fact that it wasn't terrible, and this film seems to come rather highly rated. We'll see what happens...


Bennett: The French umbrella musical! I look forward to this movie as it will bring a new element to our reviews. That is: how well can we read subtitles?


Simon's Take:


Honestly, I'm glad this was as short as it was. Now, to be fair, the movie is in French, and despite my birthplace, I don't speak french. And since Bennett doesn't either, we watched the film with subtitles. And while I imagine the subtitles were well done (I can't compare them to the original words naturally), I couldn't help but feel like some of the film's magic was lost in translation. Despite some of my previous comments, I actually don't mind musicals. But as this film was an operetta: every line of dialog was sung. Lines that could have easily been spoken were sung. The little filler conversations between characters were also sung. This gets really tiring after a while, because the songs lose all sense of pacing and rhythm. It's very hard to tell where one song ends and another begins. It's just a wall of music for the full 90 minutes. The story is simple enough that it could be summed up with a few words of dialog, so honestly I need to just say that I felt the whole musical element was unnecessary. But regardless, I'll move on.

The story is clearly a bittersweet tale of a higher-class girl falling in love with a low-class mechanic. Like all love stories, their love is genuine and true and innocent, and like most love stories, the girl's mother disapproves of her marrying a poor boy who works in a garage. After about 40 minutes of these two expressing their love through song, the boy is shipped off to the war and is gone for two years, and essentially leaves the movie for half an hour, allowing this girl to fall in love (and eventually marry) another man. The nice thing, is that unlike a lot of musicals, no section seems to drag on for too long. The short runtime obviously contributes to that, but it's nice that the film doesn't spend ten or twenty minutes on a goodbye. The pacing is what you would find in any other movie. It's basically a perfect length.

The problem I found was that it was hard to treat the movie as a tragedy. I mean, naturally there was some heartbreak and tragedy in it, except that you can't help but feel Genevieve made the right choice in the end. She married a man who clearly loved her, looked past the fact that she was pregnant, was rich, handsome, and altogether a much better catch. In other tragedies, she'd be forced into a marriage with someone terrible instead of being given a choice to marry someone great. It's like the movie is trying to tell you "don't trust your heart! Do the smart thing."

Despite these annoyances, there were some other good elements. The performances all around were great, and the actual music itself was good when people weren't singing pointless un-rhyming words on top of it. It's a harmless movie, but not one that caused me to rethink my life, or anything.


Pros:

- Perfect Length


Cons:

- Operetta style just doesn't work.
- Predictable and basic


Bennett's Take:


Famously known across the globe as "that French umbrella musical," and nominated for four Academy Awards, this movie was very well made. As you probably know, I am a pretty big fan of musicals; however, I have different feelings about operettas (where every line is sung). This is the first movie I have watched that the genre was both a pro and a con. I was initially captivated by the concept of it being an operetta, but that quickly turned into the singing of every single word in the entire film even if it did not need to be sung and made more sense to be spoken. I found the singing caused the movie to lack pace. Moments that could have been solved in a little dialogue, were dragged out over minutes as they sang. Thank goodness it was only 90 minutes in all! I agree with Simon when he says the constant singing caused the film to lose some magic. I feel it also lessened the actors' abilities to bring out the strong emotions in the film.

I for one however, disagree with Simon's conclusion of there not being a real sense of heartbreak. I felt the film truly portrayed the bittersweet love story between Guy and Genevieve. This couple, cute as could be, is so close to tying the knot and having a fairytale ending when Guy is suddenly shipped off to serve in the Army--that is heartbreaking! Then, in order to help her mother's growing debt, Genevieve marries a wealthy man whom she had no interest in. All the while, poor Guy is off in Algeria fighting a war thinking he would be coming back to beautiful Genevieve. When he returns this is obviously not the case. Guy ends up with another woman and seems happy. Alas, this movie was nothing but a heartbreaking tragedy where two young people, so deeply in love, are ripped apart. When they meet again a few years down the road, there is great tension between the two. Although they will likely never forget one another and what could have been, they do not dwell on the past, but look to the future with their families by their side. It really was a classical, tragic, bittersweet love story (Simon mustn't have a heart if he couldn't see this).

Anyways, the plot itself (although highly predictable) displayed well what director Jacques Demy desired. The film lacked a tremendous amount of depth, but when you take into account it was 90 minutes and everything being sung, it is understandable. The music was grand, and did an incredible job of bringing out the emotions of the film, but was masked by the singing of each word. The singing itself was fantastic as Demy had a great cast full of musical talent. I was not surprised to find out three of the four Academy Award nominations were to do with the music. Although the effects were weak ("walking" down a street without moving your legs, or rain only in certain spots, or even a pre-soaked jacket), the sets were well designed--bringing a much needed brightness as you watched this heartbreaking film.

All in all, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was a good musical. The cast was incredible, and the music exquisite. However, the lack of pace due mainly to the operetta genre caused me to get bored often. The main thing that kept me attentive was trying to predict what would happen next, but this also got tiring as I was correct each time and practically knew the rest of the movie in my mind, so why bother watching? Will I watch it again? Probably not. Should you watch it? Maybe, if you enjoy good music, French, and subtitles.


Pros:

- Musical.
- Great love story.
- Amazing music/score.


Cons:

- Operetta.
- Lacked pace.
- Highly predictable plot.
- Weak effects


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