The lives of Geneviève Emery and Guy Foucher of Cherbourg, France are presented in four acts. Act 1 begins in November 1957, when 16-year-old Geneviève, who works in her widowed mother's umbrella shop called "Les parapluies de Cherbourg", and 20-year-old Guy, who works as a mechanic at a gas station, are madly in love and want to get married. They are reluctant to tell anyone not only of their want to get married, but of their relationship. Geneviève believes her mother will think her too young and would want her to marry someone with better prospects, especially considering her own tenuous financial situation. And Guy is more concerned now about not abandoning his ailing godmother, Aunt Élise, who raised him, and who he looks after along with a young woman named Madeleine. Act 2, told largely from Geneviève's perspective, begins in February 1958. Guy, drafted to fight for the French in Algeria, has been gone for two months, and is expected to be gone for two years. Geneviève rarely ...Written by
Bold Series of Uninterrupted Recitatives Constitute Demy's Brightly Colored But Sad Love Story
In 1964, filmmaker Jacques Demy made an audacious move by directing a deceptively simple love story completely in song. I would be hard pressed to call this movie a musical, opera or even an operetta since there are neither show-stopping production numbers nor soul-bearing arias on the soundtrack. Instead, we are presented everyday dialogue in a series of recitatives that bring a dramatic urgency to the most mundane of events. Why it works is that the story is not the happy-go-lucky romance one would suspect it will be from the bright colors of the production but rather a melancholy tale of love unfulfilled and the tenuousness of longing in the face of harsh realities. It is a Gallic version of "Romeo and Juliet" by way of William Inge's tale of teenage lust, "Splendor in the Grass" (in fact, Demy's ending bears a striking resemblance to the last scenes of Elia Kazan's film three years earlier).
The plot focuses on teen-aged star-crossed lovers Genevieve and Guy, who develop a relationship through clandestine meetings despite the disapproval of Genevieve's mother, who thinks a gas station mechanic is beneath her daughter. The lovers eventually consummate their relationship once Guy finds he has been drafted to serve for France during the Algerian conflict. With Guy away, Genevieve discovers she is pregnant and must decide whether to wait for Guy's uncertain return or marry the rich diamond dealer, Roland Cassard, her mother's preference given the failing business of her umbrella shop. The story develops in subtle strokes almost like a Yasujiro Ozu film in that there aren't really any melodramatic confrontation scenes but instead moments of revelation. The wondrous Catherine Deneuve, all of twenty, had her first important role as Genevieve, and it's no wonder her career seems assured from her ethereal performance. With his earthy good looks and open-hearted manner, Nino Castelnuovo complements Deneuve as Guy, and their romance is palpable even in an amusingly contrived shot where they are obviously on a conveyor belt moving down the street. Anne Vernon lends a robust presence as Genevieve's mother as she plots her daughter's fate, and Marc Michel is appropriately bland as Roland.
Along with the vibrant colors faithfully recaptured in a 1996 restoration, such artifices really add to the film's charm. However, just as essential is Michel Legrand's score with his swooning romanticism at its most cinematic (and a precursor to the music he composed for Barbra Streisand's 1983 "Yentl"), as it fills the dramatic arcs from start to finish. You will likely recognize the lounge standard melodies for the Americanized translations, "I Will Wait for You" and "Watch What Happens", as they are pervasive through the recitatives. I enjoyed the movie very much but realize this will not be everyone's cup of tea, especially those already alienated by the musical genre. One can see this as an even more exaggerated form, but you can probably tell by the first two minutes whether you will be enraptured by it. The DVD also includes an excerpt from Demy's widow Agnes Varda's illuminating 1995 documentary, "The World of Jacques Demy".
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