The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

1964 French cinematic opera, composed by Michel Legrand and starring stunning Catherine Deneuve, began as a passionate love story of an umbrella store sales girl and an auto mechanic.  The sight of people walking the rainy cobble streets of Cherbourg under the colorful umbrellas, set to the most romantic music of all times, built an anticipation of the strong feelings overcoming everything and anything.   There was no force in the Universe powerful enough to keep 17-year-old Genevieve and 20-year-old Guy apart.   They were madly in love, cherishing every moment they spent together.   The scene at the train station, with Genevieve weeping, singing  heart-breaking “I Will Wait For You” to her beloved Guy going away to the war in Algeria, left no doubt that the song promise would be kept.

However, the long distance relationship did not last long.  After a few months of loneliness, waiting for an occasional letter, pregnant Genevieve decided to marry the wealthy diamond dealer.  Guy did not die of a heart-break either.  He married his aunt’s nurse shortly after his return from the war.

They met accidentally at Guy’s gas station, four years later.  Both had families with a child named Francese (the name they’ve decided on before the split).  The snow was falling; Genevieve got out of her car and followed Guy inside the gas station featuring a huge Christmas tree decorated by his wife and son.  Polite greetings followed. She offered him to meet his daughter, waiting in the car, but he did not seem too excited about it.  They parted shortly after, mostly likely never destined to meet again. The entire scene was accompanied by “I Will Wait For You”.

The movie is incredibly beautiful; at times enormously poignant and dreamy, at times tearing your heart out.  Based on the melody, I want to believe that they still love each other, and their lack of emotions is just an act to preserve their new lives each has created without the other.  In any case, the story line and the musical subtext are utterly at odds.  I got quite confused by this disconnect.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is not the only European classic that has an unclear end.  In fact, most of them do.  Various circumstances easily push the love birds apart, making them pursue options more suitable for comfortable, secure life.  Living for a moment rather than a lifetime seems to be a recurring theme.  Jumping in the sea of love usually follows by doing what makes sense, and cherishing the happy memories.

American classics, on the other hand, always have a happy end.  It does not matter what comes next, how long it would last, how poor/sick/ insane you may become, or how many other people would be unhappy as a result of your happiness; LOVE is all that matters.  Happy end is the ultimate goal that gives the movie its purpose.   Consequently, Americans (at least in the movies) are much more likely to commit spontaneous, emotional acts of insanity, otherwise known as love, for a longer period of time. And I’ve always thought Americans were the more pragmatic ones.

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