The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

You do not just fall in love with a face in the street.

So, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of watching a foreign language musical; I wasn’t sure how easily I would be able to tag along with the foreign language while it was being sung to me, especially while also following with the translation, which was likely to not be in the same verse as the original dialogue and singing lines. That, and I had just never considered, that filmmakers in other languages would’ve wanted to make a musical; a somewhat stupid notion now that I think about it. Aside from a handful of foreign entries that are mostly, if not entirely, in English, there are two such foreign language musicals on the list, and both of them are by Jacques Demy, so that tells me there must be at least something special about the man and his films to warrant two of his musicals on the list. So, all that said, how much did I end up taking to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg? I don’t know if I can say; I liked the music, but disliked what it was singing. I’ll elaborate.

Almost as if to dissuade my reservations about not being able to follow the foreign language singing, the film decides to take the operatic route of being entirely “sung-through”, meaning there is no spoken dialogue; every line is sung, which meant that often the lines, even in French, did not rhyme, or at least as far as I could tell phonetically. However, while this made my reservations easier to handle, it also meant that the actors were essentially singing regular dialogue instead of just saying it, which was, to put it in one word, weird. The kind of weird I never got used to, even through the film’s short running time. This isn’t your typical musical, where numbers are interspersed throughout an otherwise regular film; the entire thing is one drawn-out number in and of itself, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. The music was nice to listen to, but only the music, and not the dialogue that was being sung; that added an air of uncomfortability that never really went away. As for the rest of the film, it was very nice; the cinematography and art direction was very colorful, and this was Demy’s intention, to create an overly razzle-dazzle version of Cherbourg, one that could pretty much only exist in the movies. The actors, aside from the whole “singing dialogue” thing, were decent enough, and the plot was simple and effective, even if the music sometimes didn’t match the tone of the scenes; the film humorously opens with a group of mechanics singing about how they appreciate movies more than operas because, and I quote, “all that singing gives [them] a pain”, and one of the early scenes is the main girl Genevieve and her mother arguing about how to make an obscenely large owed payment to the bank on their umbrella shop, to the tune of probably the most upbeat music one could’ve processed for such a scene. It just seemed out of place, and most of the film was like this.

So, I sat thinking about this one for a short while after I finished it, considering whether or not it had gained my favor, for either the peppy and well-done score and the somewhat affecting story, or not for the abstract singing of the dialogue and the oftentimes melodramatic waves that would wash over me. Finally, I decided to swing in one particular direction, and I decided it wasn’t my thing; for everything that I did like, it was offset by something that I didn’t like, and the aspects I didn’t like often outweighed those that I did. There seems to be several things to enjoy about this one, and I’d imagine if you are fluent in French it might be a little more bearable for you, but I just couldn’t get over the singing of the dialogue. I’ve seen it done in other films and musicals, and while it was odd, it was at the very least well done; this just literally takes a regular film script, with regular dialogue, and puts it directly to music. I couldn’t help but have the feeling through the whole thing that the film would’ve been better off if they hadn’t sung all of the dialogue, but alas, they did, and so I’m left with my opinion of it. I wanted to like this one, I really did, and I tried to, but there was just too much that rubbed me the wrong way.

Arbitrary Rating: 6/10

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