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Bright, bittersweet love in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and La La Land (2016)

Designed by: Nurin

From the bright pastel umbrellas in motion to that jazzy score by Michel Legrand in the opening scene, fans of La La Land (2016) would not be remiss to feel a sense of déjà vu. It’s a well-documented fact that The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) was one of the main inspirations behind Damien Chazelle’s sophomore effort; both are musicals that revolve around young, bittersweet love and filmed in bright, colourful photography.

Perhaps Jacques Demy’s musical was a slightly rough-around-the-edges blueprint that set a touchstone for future movies of similar style and tone. To have the entire dialogue be sung-through might be a bit jarring for some, and Geneviève’s (Catherine Deneuve) decision that forever changed her destiny with Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) seemed like an area that could have been more thoroughly explored.

But one cannot deny the incandescent beauty and youthful exuberance of Deneuve, who was on her way to hitting her stride in film (Belle de Jour (1967) is classic peak Catherine Deneuve). The mother of Geneviève, played amusingly by Anne Vernon, eschews stereotype by trying to prioritise her daughter’s well-being while reconciling with the promise of financial stability as seen in Geneviève’s rich suitor (Marc Michel).

And the unforgettable theme song, “Je ne pourrai jamais vivre sans toi”, will stay embedded in your mind long after the film has ended. As the score’s refrain hits its operatic heights in the final scene, the film seems to wistfully acknowledge the inevitable—how romantic ideals of love are often beholden to reality.

Written by: Denis
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) was viewed as part of the French Film Festival 2020 in Singapore.

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