Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jacques Demy's 1964 film Les parapluies du Cherbourg a true experiment


I have seen the 7.30 pm show of Les Parapluies du Cherbourg with my elder-brother at the Alliance Francaise auditorium on Friday.
One of the best kept secrets -- not really a secret because the makers of the French New Wave proclaimed it as loudly as they could -- is how Hollywood is the inspiration for the French New Wave. Ironically, many critics who would berate Hollywood films would be the very ones who would praise the French New Wave directors for their cinematic sensibility. Of course, the French directors gave their own interesting twist to the Hollywood way of making films. Perhaps no one takes this to the extreme point the way Jacques Demy has taken it in Les parapluies du Cherbourg in which every dialogue is sung, the French version of a film musical. The Hollywood musical, like the Hindi musical, would have plenty of songs, but the dialogue was never wholly based on song, that is song becoming a dialogue or the dialogue of the film a stretchable song. Jacques Demy does this but the ironic twist is this: he tells a realistic French tale of young people falling in love, and not really falling in love, as in a Guy de Maupassant tale, and how they deal with the iron laws of life. The song and music do not become a drag or sentimental when they are pressed to tell a story of genuine calculation and compulsion.

Guy Foucher (Nino Castelnuovo) works in a service station, and Genevieve Emery (Catherine Deneuve) falls in love with him. Her mother, Madame Emery (Ann Vernon) opposes the marriage saying that Genevieve is too young -- 16 -- to understand what love is. Guy is called away to the Algerian war and before he leaves they have their love tryst and Genevieve is pregnant. Guy is away for two years and there is a problem with letters. Meanwhile, Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), an upcoming rich man, proposes to Genevieve.
The interesting thing about the film is that it tells the story of petit bourgeoise in a town, away from Paris, London, New York. And Demy structures the narrative of the film in the manner of a novel or novella -- Departure, Absence, Return.
The ironies of life in a small town of not well-off folk is portrayed with a straight-face. Guy lives with his foster-mother, Tante Elise (Mirelle Perrey), and she is looked after by Madeleine (Ellen Farner). The play of loyalties of all the main characters comes through and that is what makes this film such a delectable French matter.
Demy is supposed to have confessed that it was an operatic film but it keeps away from the emotional and musical excesses of an opera. There is no melodrama or exaggeration of any kind in Les Parapluies du Cherbourg. What stands out is the colour scheme - it is subdued garish and it is the signature of the times -- the 1960s.

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