The Umbrellas of Cherbourg -My Kind of Anti-War Movie

There is something self-defeatist about movies that purport to be anti-war spending 90 minutes bathing in blood and comradeship. Violence is its own advertisement. Showing more of it in order to lessen it is akin to invading a country in the name of peace.

Furthermore, like a closet-gay spending an inordinate amount of time ranting against homosexuality, the very people who get their knickers in a twist over onscreen orgiastic blood-letting are often the ones most titillated by it. How else can Gibson’s Passion of the Christ be explained? Extreme violence turned up to a sadistic-11 in the name of all that is holy and righteous.

The truth is Violence and Aggression and Anger and Death are cool. Singing and Romance are not. I say that with a contemptuous sneer, not as a justification for what is considered cool.

Singing & Romance (together) are allowable nowadays only if accompanied by a nod & a wink that advertise how you recognise the inherent uncoolness of it all, but that you are so cool you just don’t care, which makes it acceptable and perversely cool.

But before ironic cool uncoolness there was unapologetic joy and love and beauty and raw emotion without the baggage of the pre-packed Happy Meal mode in which to consume it.

You can fight and complain about what is considered cool -and make a good case as to why it should not be so considered, but the more you do the cooler it gets and the further into Crater of Uncool you dig.

Enter The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

To chase Cool is most uncool (think parents dancing at a wedding). Best ignore all that is considered cool in the same way this movie ignores the blood & gore it could easily have inserted in the 2nd Act. Nowadays the opportunity to add a bit of the old ultra-violence would not be ignored -at least not by anyone wanting to chase the cool.

No doubt if you’ve searched for discussions on this movie you already know what the story is about so I won’t bore you with my version of it. Also I can’t do justice to the music and singing here (all dialogue is sung, like an opera I suppose) so I’ll just concentrate on the look of the film.

The use of colour throughout is nothing short of stunning.

In almost all scenes there is a dominant colour (or two)…

…then towards the end of that scene another contrasting colour is introduced…

…which then becomes integral to the following scene…

Look at how the pink of the two central characters contrasts with the soft blue dullness of the background.

…which leads us into this scene, dominated by a pink background (camera zooms in from here on the couple, further emphasising the pink wall).
(They go to the opera for all of 5 seconds I believe as a kind of contrast/ comparison to what we ourselves are looking at. Earlier another character tells us -twice- that he doesn’t like opera, but much prefers movies. The opera they see is Carmen, about a young soldier who chooses to lose everything to run off with Carmen, whom he later kills after she leaves him for another man. Will ‘Umbrellas’ turn out the same way?

…answer, no. Umbrellas is not so violent as I’ve said.)

Let us take one more example of the colour-continuity (honestly it’s used all the time so this is a completely random sample, though I’m only using shots here from the first act of the movie to avoid spoilers)…

Genevieve’s mother returns home in a green coat. Her daughter is wearing pink with a light grey skirt. The wall colour is pink and green, with a light grey skirting underneath.

Next, mother removes her green coat to reveal her red dress…

…and walks into the kitchen where some carefully arranged tomatoes are added gently to the mix…

…before she proceeds into the ‘red’ room…

…talking/ singing all the while to her daughter.

One more briefly…

While she stands, blonde Genevieve (who says nothing throughout this scene but is clearly at the centre of it all) is wearing white, matching the chandeliers and the white doorframe…

…but as they leave, the movement of Genevieve’s leg inevitably reveals the light-blue dress underneath the white coat, which is suggestive of the light-blue curtains behind her.

These tiny unremarked-upon touches add so much to the mood and tone of this amazing film.

Soon her boyfriend, Guy, must go into the army to do his national service for two years. Can their love survive the separation?

I’ll leave you with this series of stills showing something of the emotion involved (of course there’s a lot more when accompanied by the music/ singing -but even a clip wouldn’t show how this musical theme has been playing throughout the movie so far whenever the young couple is onscreen. Now it is ready to tear them -and us- apart…

…If you don’t think you can handle that amount of uncool unbridled passion and art, then maybe this film isn’t for you.

One last thing… There is something poignant and moving in stories/ films that end in heavy snowfall. Somehow the fall of snow is like a declaration of finality. Everything is covered. That is the end.

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