I realized yesterday that I must be mad to plan on writing a post a day for a week, especially since my exams are in one week. Though I somehow managed to convince myself that since the exams will be essay based, writing blog posts is kind of like practicing for exam. Besides, there are at least a few readers such as yourself who cares about what I have to say. So I’m going to finish this series just for you. See how much I care about you? But I’m actually not sure if you care back…. I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you enjoy my writing, you should leave me a comment below, or follow me @SyniaN on twitter, and maybe even share this with your friends! =)
Anyway, that’s the end of my self advertising, and now on with the show.
One of the problem with picking these historical masterpieces to write about is that they are just so incredibly rich. So much substance is in them that a mere thousand words blog post really don’t do them justice. So if you’ve seen the films before and noticed how much I’ve simplified things, feel free to point them out in the comments. Otherwise, even if it might seem like I’m spoiling the plot for you, I still highly recommend checking these films out yourself. You will not be disappointed.
Today we are leaving the age of black and white films, and fast forwading 20 years to an excellently crafted French Musical Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) directed by Jacques Demy and released in France during Valentine’s week almost 50 years ago.
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), Love is Fragile
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg begins with a birds eye view of some pedestrians as rain drops falls from the sky. Entry credit appear one after another with soft wipes. A gradual upwards tilt reveals the city of Cherbourg and the title appear with a cross fade. This is followed by a quick cut to the front of a port side garage. The camera proceeds to track a coated man walking in to the garage.
To any other viewer, these features would probably have gone unnoticed, but getting use to films of the 1940s, these subtle effects jumped out at me. By the way, did I mention that this film is in color too? All of a sudden, instead of feeling like a person watching a play, I felt like some omnipotent, futuristic probe, howvering in mid air, observing, yet unobserved.
Then the singing started. I’m not going to pretend I known French, but I do know beauty when I hear it. Now I finally understand why people say French is the language of passion and love. If angels sang in human languages, I bet they sang in French. The visuals were even more stunning. Jessica Winter, an author of The Village Voice, described the Mise en scène as “lickable Eastmancolor whipped into a lemon-and-strawberry trifle; Candy Land on Ecstasy”. The color pallet basic made the city look like the inside of a children’s toy factory.
The film seemed equally light hearted at first. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is about the love story between 16 years old Geneviève and her boyfriend Guy. Guy is a mechanic, while Geneviève helps her mother to run an umbrella shop. Guy would drop by the umbrella shop after work to talk to Geneviève, and Geneviève would sneak out of the house to go on date with Guy. After a romantic night at the theater, Guy proposes to Geneviève but Geneviève is concerned what her mother might think.
Things changed when Guy received his enlistment letter. He will have to leave Cherbourg for two years. Distressed by the news, Geneviève decide to stay the night with Guy as they savior their last moments together. The next day, at the train station, we see a love stucken young Geneviève sprinting after the moving train crying and promising that she would wait for Guy no matter what.
At first, Geneviève was left in pain. She cried to her mother that she will “die of love”, only to be quickly dismissed as childish. Day after day, she would wait for Guy’s letters and look at Guy’s picture. What made things worse for Geneviève was the discovery that she’s pregnant, as well as the appearance of a new, suitor Roland.
By this point, I thought I knew what the rest of the film would be about. The perserverance of love, the conflict with parents, a final showdown between the two suitors and happily ever after for Geneviève and Guy. How wrong I was.
As time passed, Geneviève’s attention has been shifted on to the baby. She understand that her mother is right; the child needs a father, and she needs a husband. She is afraid of telling Roland that she is pregnant. She is worried what he might do or say. At the same time, she is afraid that Roland would accept her for it. Because then, she would have no more reason to not marry him.
Months passed Geneviève told her mother that when she’s “looking at the photo, (she) even forget his face”. Eventually, Geneviève told Roland about the child. Roland promised that he would love the child. By the time Guy got back, Geneviève and Roland already got married and moved away to Paris. Guy was devastated. He quit his job, became a drunkard and seeked out prostitues to fill his lonliness. Guy was comforted by a childhood friend Madeleine and realized what a different person he has become. With the help of Madeleine, Guy got back on track, started his own business, and eventually took Madeleine as his wife.
Much like the city of Cherbourg with it’s toy like color scheme, love always appears to be a wonderful bubble of laughter and joy. Everything seems that much more vibrant just because of love. To people who are in love, the rest of the world seems to simply fade away. But if you live in the city, and really understand the city, you’ll see there is a real world underneath the facade of bright colours. It is a time when wars are fought, debts are piling up, and a young boy has to go to war after his girl becomes pregnant.
The truth of things is that love is not the almighty genie that will solve all problems. “As long as there is love between you and I, everything will work out alright” simply isn’t true, because they won’t work out. Love is not one thing that’s obtained but requires nurturing, it requires responsibility and maturity. By boardering the banal, sentimentalist cliche of love the overcomes all odds, Demy was able to successfully demonstrate the fragility human relations.
As things turns out, Geneviève’s mother, who at first seemed like a materialistic woman without a care for her daughter turned out to be perhaps the wisest character of all. By the end of the film, her words “you don’t understand love, people only die of love in the movies” suddenly takes on a new meaning. Love without understanding, the understanding of love itself, is bound to fail. Without the right circumstances, maturity, wisdom, regardless how intense the feelings might be, over time, it will only be a fleeting dream; a love that fades.