"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."
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?"
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.
1 year ago