In honor of the nominations for the 81st Academy Awards, which brought me no joy, I've decided to talk about two films, selected for me by the library shelves, that brought me a good deal of joy.
(Digression on the Oscar noms: If you replaced stinky Juno with spellbinding The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, wouldn't any of the Best Pictures of '07 win this year? I say yes. I think PT Anderson, in particular, must be kicking himself that There Will Be Blood came out a year too early. This is a year where a great film would have swept. Instead, Benjamin Button might sweep, which makes me sad inside.)
Having thoroughly enjoyed Lola and Bay of Angels, I was excited to watch The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and complete the early-Demy trifecta. To add to my delight, I read on the back of the box that all the dialog is sung, which would be either charming or preposterous. It turned out to be charming, even though the lack of full-on musical numbers was disappointing. Growing up in the 90's I was used to a stately, grand dame Catherine Deneuve--even in Belle du Jour, there is a world-weariness about her. But this is Genevieve as Umbrella Nymph, thin-limbed and pastel, so intimidatingly perfect that Guy, away in Algeria, can't muster enough good words to keep her hanging on. Even dancing in France he can hardly touch her--sure there are pins in her dress, but there is something of a protective bubble around Genevieve at all times.
And so she falls in with jewelry dealer Cassard (Marc Michel, from Lola, with a new pencil mustache but still wonderfully serious at all times). My favorite moment in the film is when Demy gives Cassard a 360 degree flashback to the square in Nantes where he had chased true love Lola. The shops are now in color and empty and heartbreaking. Michel pictures this at the dinner table without changing expression but you can see the tiniest of glimmers in his eye and think, damn the movies are fun. Guy of course comes back and finds Genevieve gone away and does some running around in the rain without an umbrella before setting his eyes on Madeleine, who was always too attractive to be just his Aunt Elise's nursemaid.
Even with all the lovely seaside color in Umbrellas, I found the most beautiful frames to be the last, with Guy and Madeleine and son in yellow slicker playing in the snow outside of Guy's Esso service station (which, charmingly, serves the "Cherbourgeoisie"). The thick snowflakes and midcentury Esso gas pumps remind me of nothing so much as Douglas Sirk--I didn't know Demy had that imagery and melodrama in him.
I next watched Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell step on a ship headed for Cherbourg (in "Europe, France" according to Monroe's Lorelei Lee). Gentleman Prefer Blondes is a traditional musical buoyed by above-average humor in the non-singing moments.
I believe that comedy is always better on ships and when delivered by dead serious ten year olds.
Henry Spofford III (and valet) steals the show every shining time he arrives. While Lorelei's other suitors mostly gawk at her, indecisive with age, Spofford lays out her appeal succinctly: "you've got a lot of animal magnetism." For me, Monroe does have more magnetism in this film than any other I've seen. She is comfortable with Russell--their voices, hair and heights all compliment each other.
Howard Hawks frames the film nicely with a red hot start...
and demure white finish.
This is, of course, a conventional conclusion, the wild girls settling down (how Russell's Dorothy winds up with the less-than-gorgeous Elliott Reed is hard to figure) but the end doesn't come before Lorelei delivers her fantastic lines, "Don't you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You wouldn't marry a girl just because she's pretty, but my goodness, doesn't it help?"