La La Land / The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

(La La Land directed by Damien Chazelle) (2016)

(The Umbrellas of Cherbourg directed by Jacques Demy) (1964)

We’ve not been to Los Angeles much in recent years but the town stays in the memory. It’s full of brand identification – Sunset Blvd., the Chinese Theatre, the film studios, the Roosevelt Hotel, the Beverly Wiltshire, The Viper Room…the beaches! The hills! The outlets! The orange smog!

Emma Stone (the fresh-faced, bug-eyed lass from Birdman) is Mia, a waitress with dreams of stardom. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz bore par excellence, struggling away in obscurity. She has dud auditions; he has to play 80s horror-tunes at parties. Girl meets boy – boy hates girl – girl hates boy – so what could possibly develop from there?

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Well, they could fall in love, and he could compromise his principles by going on the road, being cruel to her at dinner, and missing her one-woman show. But all will be well (kind of) by the last reel.

There is nothing new here, but who cares?  The film is actually a delightful throwback, updated to show Los Angeles in splendid montage.  The City of Angels never looked prettier – no East LA scenes!  The director and cast work overtime to charm, and they do charm. Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire they ain’t, but Stone and Gosling dance and sing better than 60% of the population. Singin’ in the Rain it ain’t, but it’s a perfect antidote for all the real, contemporary, crushed and broken dreams, scattered on the LA sidewalks.

Primary colours (a la Targets, but washed real nice) abound and there are nice surreal touches. There’s a most attractive, ‘hackneyed-freshness’ about the routines, and particularly the fantasy elements – like the leads, you feel alive, imbued with a unique joy that passes all others by. That is the magic of a movie musical. La La Land achieves it.

Whilst watching it, the throwaway, faux-live warbling of the cast reminded The Varnished Culture of a film from a long time ago. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was ahead of its time, a wistful love story offered to us as a wafer-thin singalong.

Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve, France’s beautiful ice queen) is in love with Guy, a garage mechanic. Before he goes off to the war in Algiers, they pledge their undying love and name their first child ‘Françoise’. Geneviève will eventually have her Françoise, but she won’t be rearing her with Guy.

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As David Shipman described it (The Great Movie Stars, 1980): “a story of lovers who part, marry each on his side, and meet again too late. The difference here was the non-cloying charm, the delicacy of the emotion, and the fact that it was all sung – to lilting melodies by Michel Legrand.”

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La La Land is pretty good, but if you want real urban charm, the sort of thing the French do best, watch Les Paraplutes de Cherbourg….

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