Sunday, August 28, 2011

For ABC Wednesday and Magpie 80

"G" is for "Genevieve"

This week’s Magpie prompt reminded me – the prompt always reminds me of something – of a highly unusual French film of a few decades ago. Perhaps you’ve seen it:

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”
What’s unusual about it? Well, the producer had the audacious idea of making a motion picture, a love story – all in song.
Might sound like a bad idea at first thought, but the combination of the music of Michel Legrand and the beautiful colors of the film, along with Catherine Deneuve when she was a young beauty, made it a hit.

Catherine Deneuve, of course, is one of the most famous French movie stars, having made over a hundred films. In "Umbrellas," she plays a young girl named Genevieve, who helps her mother run a chic umbrella shop.
The rather startling thing about this film is that all the dialog, even the most mundane, is sung. I got a kick out of the way the film begins: it’s a garage and a customer has come to claim his car.

Customer (returning to the garage): "Finished yet?"
Mechanic (working on car): "Yep. The engine still rattles when it’s cold, but that's normal."
Customer: "Thanks."
Mechanic: "You bet."
Boss (in the background): "Hey, Foucher--could you stay an extra hour tonight?"
Mechanic: "Tonight would be a problem. But I think Pete’s free. Pete -- could you stay later tonight?"
Pete: “Okay."
Boss: "Fine. Check the ignition of this Mercedes."

There are not many scenes from opera or operetta like that; funny thing, it seems to work.
The love story: the 20-year-old garage mechanic has to leave for two years of military service in Algeria. He and his girl friend, Genevieve, are madly in love and swear to be true to each other. However, he doesn’t write (because he’s been wounded), so she, learning that she’s enceinte, as they say, winds up marrying a different guy.
So the film isn’t a happy-go-lucky romance; you can detect overtones of “Romeo and Juliet” in it, in spite of the bright colors of the umbrellas in the umbrella shop. It’s a tale of love unfulfilled, made very relevant for the time because the characters have to deal with the tragedy of the Algerian War, France’s civil war.

This struck home to me when I saw the film. I was in France in 1962, the year the civil war was at its peak. Right-wing generals of the French army had promised never to give up their treasured colony, Algeria, and vowed to invade to defeat the French government and assassinate President Charles de Gaulle. There was fear everywhere in the city of Paris at that time; people expected paratroopers to drop from the sky, kill the president and take over the country.
They especially feared plastic bombs; they were thought to be everywhere. I was shooting a film at that time and I dropped into a cafe for coffee. Without thinking, I stowed my camera equipment under a nearby table. The place suddenly emptied out and a couple of cops showed up on the double. I managed to convince them I was an innocent American who had nothing against de Gaulle. :-)
To get back to the film, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” has become a classic – probably because there aren’t many of its kind – and can be enjoyed today.


41 comments:

izzy said...

Very cool! thanks for all your research-

thingy said...

Yeah, really cool. I need to see the film.

kaykuala said...

Very informative and a refreshing background of the French politics then. Your comment is always uniquely different from others. It makes very interesting reading. Almost educational in fact!Thanks for sharing, Berowne!

Hank

Nara Malone said...

Sounds like a great film. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Nara Malone said...

Sounds like a great film. Thanks for sharing it with us.

The Cello Strings said...

love operas,
thanks for the remarkable take and lovely reminder.

beautiful magpie.

Kay L. Davies said...

Wonderful post for the prompt, Berowne. You always have great stories to share. I'm still giggling about the sung dialogue in the auto repair shop.
— K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Cad said...

Ada and I sing our rhymes all the time...

Roger Owen Green said...

I've heard of, but never actually saw, that film. Sounds like something I'd like.

Lydia said...

I have said it before, but....I so much love what I learn from you. This post was a marvelous treat. The film sounds great (there are musicals, and then there are musicals!). I most of all loved your personal vignette. I rate this Five Stars! ;)

Kristen Haskell said...

I would love to see that film. Thanks for the background on it. As always, very interesting post.

Berowne said...

Greetings from Irene-land. For the past couple of days, my power has been cut off -- the electrical power; my will power is still as strong as ever :-) -- and it has just now been switched back on. So forgive my not answering earlier. Thanks to all for such encouraging comments.

Berowne said...

Lydia: "I rate this Five Stars!"
Okay if I hang this on the wall? :-)

Tumblewords: said...

Glad to read that you are well. Always a good post on your wall - thanks!

Brigid said...

Good to hear your power is restored, stay safe!

I must watch this film, I am doing a screenwriting course at the moment so this looks like one to add to my list. Great post as usual.

Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

A great post, and I saw yours shortly after my mention of the same film which has a special place in my heart. I first saw it a couple of years after it was released when I caught the last two thirds of an English dubbed version on TV at my grandmother's house in Kansas City. I had no idea who the cast members were at that young age, but it compelled me and I always called it the "gas station" musical. When I told people about it, they told me I was nuts and that such a movie did not exist. I began to question if maybe I dreamed it, and since I saw it in English I always thought it was some weird US film.

Years later a friend in college took me to a screening of what he said was an obscure French film with the lovely Catherine Deneuve. Five minutes into it, I realized I was finally seeing "the gas station musical" in all of its glory and that I wasn't nuts after all.

Berowne said...

Great story, Ladron. Thanks for sharing...

Berowne said...

Brigid: "I am doing a screenwriting course at the moment..."
I taught screenwriting for years; wish I had had more students like you in the classes. :-)

Jackie Jordan said...

Great post, and thanks for the film recommendation.

France in '62? Your visit must have been intriguing. A European tour is on my bucket list, there and Tahiti.

sharplittlepencil said...

I saw "Umbrellas" at a retro theater in NYC in the 80s, wide screen and cheap popcorn, the best. Deneuve was as lovely this past year in "Potiche" as she was then, and no "work" on her face, either.

The political discussion which accompanied this was very enlightening. Learn a new thing every day and you'll never grow old, said my dad. That's one of many reasons I love your blog, Berowne! Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/i-met-my-muse-when-i-was-two/

Berowne said...

Amy: "That's one of many reasons I love your blog, Berowne!"
That's one of the many reasons I love your comments. :-)

Carver said...

Very interesting post for the letter G. I haven't seen the movie but I'll have to check and see if it's on netflix.

Pat said...

A heart breaker of a film which really resonated with me at the time. Little did I know what happiness was in store. I nearly said happy ending but that isn't possible when one of you has to go sooner or later.

chubskulit said...

Did not know the film but it sounds like an interesting one to watch.

God's Marvelous Gift. Have a great day!

Friko said...

loved the film (heavens, what a long time ago it was), even loved the music. Adore la belle Catherine, even now, although I am insanely jealous of her looks.

Were you thinking of the poverty stricken lovers and their 'gifts' to each other when you mentioned O Henry? It must be a frequently used plot line.

Berowne said...

Friko: "Were you thinking of the poverty stricken lovers and their 'gifts' to each other when you mentioned O Henry?"
No, I was thinking of the surprise - twist - ending.

Seraphina´s Phantasie said...

Just wonderful !
Now I like to see the film...

jabblog said...

Nostalgic! Enceinte is such a lovely term - so much better than 'harry preggers'!

Lucy Westenra said...

An education as usual. received with thanks. I had heard about this film, and now I will try Amazon etc for it. Is it from the era of another magic French film that I have seen - "The Red Balloon"?

Reader Wil said...

This movie "the Umbrellas of Cherbourg"is one I'd like to see. What you wrote about the camera equipment shows how nervous people were at the time. Actually nothing has changed, whenever there is left luggage somewhere people panick and warn the police.
I like your story, thanks for sharing.

Gattina said...

Of course I have seen this movie, long ago ! Catherine played together with her sister who died shortly after in a car accident. It was very sad, she was a very good actress too.

Alexa said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and introducing me to yours! I was living in Paris when I saw this film—and while Deneuve is sill beautiful, I thought her sister (and co-star in this wonderful film, as Gattina just pointed out), Françoise Dorléac (Deneuve's real name), was absolutely gorgeous. I still remember so well hearing the sad news of her death.

Berowne said...

Forgive me for disagreeing, but I don't believe Catherine's sister Francoise was in "Umbrellas." I was working in Nice in '67 when she was killed in that car accident. I often drove that same Nice highway, and in a rented Renault R-10, exactly the same car she had been driving.

Trellissimo said...

I'm always singing in the rain, me...

Anonymous said...

Dear Berowne: Don't know how I missed this movie! Now I just have to watch it! You are treasure-trove of first hand knowledge. What a full life you have led! jane jones

Alexa said...

Oops, you're right, Berowne. I was thinking of "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort," that other Jacques Demy film.

Beverley Baird said...

Very interesting post! I have never heard of or seen the movie - will have to try and discover it!

Berowne said...

jane jones: "What a full life you have led!"
Yes, and it left me with a lot of memories. Sadly, however, not with all that much actual cash. :-)

ds said...

I adore Catherine Deneuve--will have to look for this film (funny how in French, and sung, even a routine exchange of dialogue between mechanics can become sublime).

I know nothing about the Algerian War. Thank you for the introduction...

Berowne said...

The Cello Strings: "Beautiful Magpie."
My thanks to all for such encouraging comments.

Mandy Smith said...

Brigid: "I am doing a screenwriting course at the moment..." I taught screenwriting for years; wish I had had more students like you in the classes. :-)

 
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