Talking Movies before the Oscars

Talking Movies before the Oscars

La La Land illustration by Thomas Danthony.

 
Of all the films of last year, I think the one I was most reluctant to see was La La Land. It turned out to become one of my favourites (although it didn’t beat American Honey, Nocturnal Animals and a surprise new comer – I am talking about that a little later – in my preferences). I have already sung my love letter to Damien Chazelle’s musical, especially regarding its direction, costumes, music and set design here. So now I am going to resume to what I consider to be one of the best descriptions of it that I have come across: “Chazelle, through La La Land, holds your hand. He asks you to breath. Listen. But not relax. No, La La Land doesn’t let you relax. Like a good jazz composition it slices you down, leaving you desolate and giddy at the same time.”

La La Land happens to be heavily nominated to The Oscars, too. And it deserves to be. It IS that good. But this will not change my opinion that the Academy Awards are not about rewarding good films. La La Land is more like the exception. The matter of fact is that comedy almost NEVER wins or is much less nominated. We need comedies these days. There are films that are released just in time to be eligible for the Oscars. The serious, “important” films. Please. Winning momentum, getting other awards nods. What is that? What does that have to do with how good a film is? It doesn’t. This is about rewarding the industry of publicity and hype.

Not that good films are not rewarded – La La Land, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea will probably attest to that – but so many other films I enjoyed in 2016 have been overlooked, like the aforementioned American Honey and Nocturnal Animals, to name only English language movies. And I am certain there are so many good ones I haven’t yet seen or even heard of. Yes, you bet I am thinking of foreign films too. How some foreign films get sometimes several nominations instead of just for foreign language film and how some actors in non-English language films are also nominated (and totally deserve to be) is still an enigma to me. I will stick to my opinion: the members of the Academy don’t know what the heck they are doing there.
 
La La Land

La La Land

 
So why am I still watching the Oscars? So many true film lovers (including these two) don’t, never did or don’t anymore. I don’t even do it for entertainment. Nothing exciting ever happens even if it is a live event; everything is staged to the last second and that takes all the fun out of it. Firstly, I do it because I write about film and costume design, so I pay attention to nominations and wins. I like to be informed, to do my homework. Secondly, because sometimes some of my favourite actors make an appearance and they may even go home with an Oscar. And thirdly, and most importantly, because this strange thing happens every once in a while: my film pick wins (true, more often than not, it’s my favourite of the ones nominated, not my favourite of the entire year), and it can get even better if it is a film that would have never been made by a big studio.

So here are my thoughts on a few important categories.
 
Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

 
Best film. The new comer in my preferences is Hell or High Water. It just might be my very favourite of 2016. An indie film, a modern western, a very actual one with a great sense of place. Its daring spirit, its accurate reflection of the bleak American times and the rough-around-the-edges antiheroes remind me of the New Hollywood of the ’70s, which gave the world some of the greatest and most original American movies since the late 1940s. A solid cast, made of actors, not stars, who do what they do best: they tell a story. A tale of two brothers robbing banks to pay off a lender before their oil-rich property gets forfeited and the Texas Rangers (Jeff Bridges plays one of them, deservedly nominated for supporting role) on their trail. Director David Mackenzie took an excellent script and turned it into an excellent movie – the screenwriter is Taylor Sheridan, the one who also wrote Sicario, the highly underrated movie of 2015 and my very own favourite of that year.

Manchester by the Sea is a very good film, a heavy drama about loss and grief. The problem is that I don’t handle that well. I am just being honest here. I simply look for something else when watching a movie, and if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I don’t take films lightly. Moonlight is a great film. It shows both artistry and emotional power in telling a coming-of-age story of a gay black boy. Director Barry Jenkings handles it so beautifully and elegantly. The best I can come up with about Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge is that it is a very American war film and it simply did not tell me much. I mean, really, hasn’t this story been told like a million times? Mel, you can do so much better. After all, you gave us Apocalypto.
 
Manchester by the Sea

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

 
Best actor: I admit I don’t have a definite pick for best actor. Casey Affleck’s character in Manchester by the Sea is a deeply damaged man. He has so many demons from his past that will never go away and yet his performance is so subtle, without failing to convey his unimaginable pain. There are other ways of going through grief than visibly coming apart. He really has to live it and I think that’s the most brave and toughest way to deal with tragedy.

But I also can not forget Ryan Gosling and the silent volumes he speaks in the finale of La La Land. He didn’t sweep me away with the dancing, singing and piano playing throughout the entire film, nor with his natural humour and charm, no. It’s that look he gives Mia when he sees her in the audience at his jazz club at the very end of the movie, the look he has after he finishes his song and looks up in her direction, although he kind of knows that she is already on her way out. That look encompasses everything he lost, everything they lost when they went to search for their separate dreams. But somehow his loss seems, and feels, bigger than hers. I can not take that look out of my mind.

There is this one more thing I have to get off my chest: how in the world is Denzel Washington suddenly making an appearance in the media as a possible winner? No, it is not for the right reason (frankly, there is a theatricality in Washington’s acting that I do not like – he didn’t have it in his earlier films), but because Casey Affleck seems to have been in the press for the wrong reasons lately – I don’t know much and I don’t want to know, because you know what? The only thing that matters here is his WORK!
 
Elle 2016

Isabelle Huppert in Elle

 
Best actress: Have I not already been vocal enough? Isabelle Huppert is the only choice. A tour de force of a performance by one of the greatest actresses of all time, which would deserve the prize in any year. Because Isabelle goes about her business, as usual, with that unforced naturalness of hers that is a world away from the Great Performance syndrome that is often accountable for the big awards wins. And if I had to have a second choice, it would be Isabelle Huppert for that other great performance of 2016, in Mia Hanse-Løve’s L’Avenir (Things to Come).

Okay, a succinct round-up is due: Natalie Portman, it just can’t be a good thing that I always see her “act” on screen, can it? Emma Stone is good – she carries the singing audition sequence all by herself so beautifully – but not quite up there in my opinion. Another Meryl Streep nomination? Really? Academy Awards voters, will you just watch other movies, too? Have you watched Annette Bening in 20th Century Women? Sasha Lane in American Honey? Amy Adams in Arrival? Emily Blunt in The Girl on the Train? I am sure even Meryl Streep is starting to feel a little embarrassed by all this not entirely deserved attention. I mean, she does seem like a very cerebral person, with a lot of common sense.
 
Moonlight

Mahershala Ali in Moonlight

 
Supporting actor: Mahershala Ali. Not only is his contribution to Moonlight one of the best parts of the film, but the extraordinary thing about his role is that its impact is deeply felt long after his part is over (he only appears in the first of the three chapters of Moonlight) and in the evolution of the main character – now, that is what a supporting role is about. However, two other entirely deserving performances are Jeff Bridges’ in Hell or High Water and Lucas Hedges’ in Manchester by the Sea.
 
Moonlight

Naomie Harris in Moonlight

 
Supporting actress: Naomi Harris should win for Moonlight, where she delivers an electric performance, going through an incredible range of moods so fast and with such ease. Viola Davis might win though, I hear, and the thing that bothers me the most is that the arguments in her favour invariably mention her already being a third time nominee with no Oscar win (so what? Pacino won his at his eighth nomination) before even getting to her part in Fences.

Michelle Williams is good, but she is good in everything she plays. In Manchester by the Sea she has very little presence on screen. But that’s not really the problem – after all, Beatrice Straight deservedly won the Oscar for her supporting role in Network, a performance of only a little over five minutes, the shortest performance to have ever won an Academy Award for acting. And, to be honest, Laura Lynne in Nocturnal Animals, for example, has a very short appearance, too, even shorter than Michelle’s, but the impact of that scene is much more powerful to the outcome of the film and of the other characters than Williams’ is.
 
La La Land

La La Land

 
Costumes: First of all, a few facts. Contemporary costume design is hardly ever nominated. It deserves to be recognised more often. It is much more difficult to get contemporary film costume right. It is also difficult to get contemporary film costume for an original screenplay right (yes, as opposed to Jackie, for example, which got the BAFTA – I mean, they had a pretty good template to work with, right? One of the most photographed, iconic, stylish women in the world, Jackie Kennedy.). All these points are not to say however that they should be reason enough for a win on the part of La La Land. But the fact that the costumes really are great (and, notably, most of them were made for the film, not bought from the shelves as it often is the case with contemporary film clothes, as good as they may be), truly convey who the characters are, harmoniously blend in and advance the narration is good enough reason and some, if you’re asking me.

Original screenplay: Hell or High Water.

Directing, cinematography, original song, original score, production design: La La Land.

On an ending note, you can forget everything I’ve written above. Who will win doesn’t really matter. What should matter is that films be seen. At the cinema. Maybe you can come back then and tell me about your favourite.

photos: 1- La La Land illustration by Thomas Danthony / 2,7-Lionsgate / 3-Film 44, OddLot Entertainment, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment / 4-Allstar/StudioCanal / 5-SBS Productions, Twenty Twenty Vision Filmproduktion GmbH, France 2 Cinéma / 6,7-A24, Plan B Entertainment

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Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

Making Movies by Sidney Lumet 
Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies is the kind of book you can’t just leaf through. You read every word and you do it on one reading, just like the director says he always used to read the scripts – because “a script can have a very different feeling if reading it is interrupted”. And then you come back to read entire passages to be able to take it all in.

I don’t like the word “review”. I don’t review books and films. I think you have to have a certain amount of arrogance in you to be able to do that. I don’t have it. I don’t analize movies. I talk about them. And sometimes, quite often even, I do it passionately. Because I love films. So if you like movies just a little bit, if it is just one film that you’ve ever liked, all I can say is that you should read this book.

Here are just a few movie-defining things that stayed with me after reading it:
 
image 

It’s all in the preparation. Do mountains of preparation kill spontaneity? Absolutely not. It’s just the opposite. When you know what you are doing, you feel much freer to improvise.

Directors take risks. The critics and the audiences don’t.

Dialogue is like anything else in movies. It can be a crutch or, when used well, it can enhance, deepen, and reveal.

A movie is constantly being rewritten, through the various contributions of the director and the actors, the music, sound, camera, decor, and editing.

Producers and studio executives hate movies.

Theatre actors are in awe of movie stars and movie stars are in awe of theatre actors.

Good work comes from passion.

And passionate people (from director and screenwriter, to actors, cameramen and set designers) can cry on the set when they failed as well as when they did something great.

The reality of the movie insider has nothing to do with the reality of an audience watching a movie for the first time.

There are no small decisions in moviemaking.

Clothes are important.

Pictures are not made in the cutting room, which is the cliché about editing, but they can be ruined there.

There is no way critics can know how well or poorly a film was edited. Only three people know how good or bad the editing was: the editor, the director, and the cameraman.

Sometimes an image is so meaningful that it encompasses everything the movie is about.

A movie plays better when you add the music. The music must say something that nothing else in the picture is saying. But when you can’t find a musical score that adds to the movie, don’t use one. There was no score used in Dog Day Afternoon, The Hill, or Network.

Commercial success has no relationship to a good or a bad picture.

The amount of attention paid to movies is directly related to pictures of quality. It’s the movies that are works of art that create this interest, even if they’re not on the ten-highest-grosses list too often.

Directing is the best job in the world.

photo by me

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The Road Home

The Road Home 1999 
There is a sensibility to Asian cinema that you can not encounter in any other films. A little while ago I watched The Road Home (1999), directed by Yimou Zhang. And in all my frenzy of seeing as many 2016 films as possible now that we are in the middle of the awards season (it’s the only time of year I watch so many American films – an activity my film lover of a husband categorically refuses to take part in (but that’s okay, I prefer going to the movies alone anyway) – and, wow, was I disappointed by so many this time around!), this beautiful Chinese film was like a breath of fresh air and a call to the roots of film-making. Its simplicity, its colours, the emotions it transmits, the delicate performance of Ziyi Zhang (she is better known for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Grandmaster, and Memoirs of A Geisha, but The Road Home is her most wonderful and subtle piece of acting) – they all work together to tell one of the best love stories in the history of cinema.

The film begins in a black and white, dark world, and when one of the characters, played by Honglei Sun, begins to tell the story of his parents’ love story, we are taken into a world of colour, a world of magic. What we get to watch is, in fact, the courtship between Zhao, a teenage girl from a small Chinese village, and Luo Changyu (Hao Zheng), the new village teacher, the innocence of falling in love and the real sacrifices one makes for love. One of the most important elements of Zhao’s courtship is the food she prepares for him. And one of the most artistically important scenes in the film shows an old man who delicately pieces together the fragments of a broken bowl, the very bowl that Zhao used to feed the man she loved. She was devastated when the bowl broke, and everything seems again to change now that it is being remade. The craftsmanship of the old man and the way this sequence is filmed, so emotionally charged, carry an incredible amount of symbolism, something that words could never accomplish. The entire movie relies very little on dialogue, but the story it tells will move you more than words ever could.
 
The Road Home 1999

The Road Home 1999

The Road Home 1999

photos: film stills | Columbia Pictures Film Production Asia, Guangxi Film Studio

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The Discrete Elegance of Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert 
In his book, Making Movies, Sidney Lumet formulates a truth that I myself have been thinking for a long time. He says: “The word ‘actress’ or ‘authoress’ always struck me as condescending. A doctor’s a doctor, right? So I’ve always referred to actors and writers, regardless of their sex.” I agree.

I immediately thought of Isabelle Huppert as being the proper example to substantiate Lumet’s statement. I have talked about Isabelle’s films time and again here on the blog. A complete actor. A fearless talent. Always reinventing herself. Her presence on the screen is arresting. You can not escape her intensity, be that her edgy grace, her sharp glare or her moral complexity. The more you watch her, the more of an enigma she becomes. You can not look away. She was recently named actress of the year at the Critics’ Circle Film Awards for L’Avenir (Things to Come) and it pleased me that she was recognised for that performance from 2016, too, in addition to the one in Elle. She was even more commanding in her understated, note-perfect, warm performance in Mia Hansen-Løve’s movie. This is a subtle, intimate, graceful film, that left me with a smile on my face. Huppert said the award “cast a light on a film that speaks honestly about a woman’s life in a realistic way – not fantasy, just how it is”. As someone who has always disapproved of the favouring of conspicuous or physical demanding roles over subtle performances, I have the utmost appreciation for this kind of roles.
 
Isabelle Huppert for Chanel 
That said, today I wanted to make it about Isabelle’s personal style, starting with the fact that Huppert is very private and very little is known about her. She generally does not talk to the press about anything other than her films. It’s something I value deeply. Let your work speak for yourself to the outer world.

Then, I just have to mention this awards season during which her grace, patrician beauty and discrete elegance shined on the red carpet (because, damn it, we all know we pay attention to the red carpet, too, so let’s just leave the fake feminist advocacy out), starting with as far back as the emerald green Chloé ensemble at Cannes, to the powder blue Armani Privé gown and the avante-grade Repossi ear cuff at the Golden Globes, and the bespoke Chloé dress at the recent BAFTAs. She was not nominated to the British awards, surprisingly as that may be, considering the acknowledgements and wins at all the other important awards, but her presence was a class above all the nominees and presenters.

Isabelle is no stranger to fashion, as she is a front-row regular at the shows, mainly Chanel (she even modelled for Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Couture A/W 2015 show, as you can see in the photo above), Armani, Givenchy and Nicolas Ghesquière (the designer is well known for his often-rooted-in-film inspiration). Designers love her, too. She is their reliably chic muse. Not only does her career continue to thrive after more than four decades, but Isabelle Huppert demonstrates how one can age gloriously. And I think her enduring allure stems just as much from an innate, irreverent sense of style as from a strong sense of self. Like with her films, she does not try to seduce you, but she does, by completely being herself.
 
Isabelle Huppert for Crash magazine

photos: Emanuele Scorcelletti for Madame Le Figaro / Elise Toïdé for Crash magazine (Isabelle at the Chanel Haute Couture A/W 2015 show / Frank Perrin for Crash magazine

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Colour and Costume: From The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to La La Land

La La Land costume design

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Top photo: “La La Land”; bottom photo: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

 
“Here’s to the fools who dream.” No wonder I love this film. And I don’t even like musicals. But here I am talking about La La Land voraciously every chance I get. It didn’t even start off well. To be honest, it took me a while to get acclimatised to the opening sequence, but as soon as that was over, I was completely absorbed by this movie’s storytelling vivacity, flights of fancy and the lead performances and perfect chemistry of Ryan Gosling (as Sebastian, a jazz musician) and Emma Stone (as Mia, an aspiring actress in the city of stars). La La Land is movie escapism, an unapologetic romantic homage to classic musicals, but its dream-chasing optimism is anchored in the everyday, in real life. And that’s the brilliance of it.

The poster-paint energy, the rousing song and dance numbers may have a saccharine tendency, hinting at Old Hollywood fantasies (the films of Gene Kelly and Vincente Minnelli easily come to mind), but the colour-schemes, the mood, its ambivalent approach to romance and the bittersweet ending evoke the 1964 French musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, directed by Jacques Demy. Demy, who, in turn, interestingly enough, wanted to pay his own tribute to the classic Hollywood musical (the title alone is alluding to Singin’ in the Rain). Decidedly tied to, but not traditionally French New Wave, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is restrained and wistful, it has a tragic undertone, going deeper than the surface of an effusive romantic story, embracing the more complicated emotions of love and life. La La Land occupies the same kind of nostalgic space.
 
Color and Costumes La La Land

Color and Costumes The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Top: “La La Land”; bottom: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

 
“I want to make people cry”, said Jacques Demy about his idea for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, “about that first love” that doesn’t necessarily end up in living happily ever after – Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) are two star-crossed lovers who are separated for a year when he is drafted to the Algerian war and the relationhip suffers a sudden rupture. What makes The Umbrellas of Cherbourg one of a kind is that the story is told entirely in song, with its characters singing every single line of their dialogue. Demy said that what bothered him at a classical musical was that the song and dance numbers were disrupting the unity of the story and he dreamed of making something seamless. And everything fell in perfect harmony with composer Michel Legrand’s lyrical melodies (it took him six months for them to finally start coming to him). “No one believed in it”, said Legrand about the film.

Another unusual thing was to make a musical against a realistic setting like Cherbourg. As Catherine Deneuve was saying in an interview at The National Film Theatre in London, “a musical was very unusual”, a long way from a traditional French film. Though it was shot on an actual location, Demy remained loyal to his idea of paying tribute to the Old Hollywood through stylised decors and bright and cheery colours (the citizens of Cherbourg allowed Demy to paint their homes). “The film used colour like a singing Matisse”, said the director.
 
Costume and Colour The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Catherine Deneuve, in her blonde blowout and marigold cardigan in front of her mother’s candy-coloured umbrella shop, in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

 
Indeed, the film displays a glorious use of colour. Demy and cinematographer Jean Rabier worked hard to make this a non-artificial world, anchoring the film’s pure visual poetry to the specifics of urban reality. Bernard Evein, the production designer, would create colour palettes and sketches of wallpaper while Jacques would do costume tests against the decor. Demy asked costume designer Jacqueline Moreau to match many of the outfits to the set’s equally bright wallpaper for a saturated, ‘50s Technicolor feeling. The full palette of pastel hues is exploited, from powder blue to lemon yellow, from apricot orange to caramel brown, and in every shot the chromatic of the clothes is matched with the decor and even the locations, sometimes reminding of a colourful French macarons store.

A key sequence, costume and colour related, is towards the end of the film when Guy meets Madeleine, the one he chooses to marry, at the café. The café walls are orange, her dress is orange and Guy arrives in a brown suit, fitting perfectly into her world: He has given up on Geneviève.
 
Colour and Costumes La La Land

Colour and Costumes The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Top: “La La Land”; bottom: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

 
In La La Land, Chazelle had his own idea of creating a universe that blends fantasy and reality, and he brought on the husband-and-wife team of production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, who are known for their work on The Royal Tenenbaums, Pulp Fiction, and Reservoir Dogs. They insisted on using actual locations, as in the case of Sebastian’s home (a real courtyard apartment in the Valley) instead of building them on the set, despite the pressure from the producers, in order to create an environment that would help the actors convey who their characters are.

While the locations bring a sense of reality to the film, the designs and colours allow the viewer, and the characters, to dream. “They’d all come to find their dreams, and their dreams were Technicolor,” Reynolds-Wasco says of Mia and her actress-wannabe roommates. They designed her world to be an explosion of primary colours. And, once again, the Old Hollywood musicals and the musicals of Jacques Demy, in particular, served as inspiration. “We punched up the colours to enhance their energy and their hopes for the future. Their world was influenced more by the MGM musicals and the French movies.” The design of Sebastian’s apartment was different, a stark contrast to Mia’s vibrant environment, taking inspiration from jazz photography and black-and-white Nouvelle Vague films.
 
Colour and Costumes from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg to La La Land

Colour and Costumes The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Top: “La La Land”; bottom: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

 
La La Land is nominated to fourteen Oscars, including for both costume design and production design. It would be nice if, for a change, the Academy acknowledged contemporary over period costuming. Films set in the present day, even in the recent past, hardy ever get nominated, let alone win. Speaking of which, I find it interesting that Demy’s film was nominated not only for foreign language film, but in four other categories.

It is the correlation of costume, setting and colour that makes the look of “La La Land” so notable, straddling the line between classic and contemporary. Mary Zophres had to be more than a costume designer, and, as in the case of set designers David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, she was more of a choreographer of colour.
 
Emma Stone costumes La La Land

Colour and Costume The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Top: “La La Land”; bottom: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

 
In an interview for The Hollywood Reporter, Zophres said that the research for the costumes included watching a montage of films made by the director (from The Bandwagon (1953) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (1996), Boogie Nights (1997) and Catch Me If You Can (2002)), as well as going through books of photographs of actresses from other time periods and of modern photography – “anything that had an interesting image that could be good for a scene”. She mentions jazz pianist Bill Evans, actor/pianist Hoagy Carmichael and James Dean as sources of inspiration for Gosling’s character, but particularly The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort.

They made all of Ryan’s clothes. His wardrobe did not consist of many pieces (one or two trousers that showed off his feet, one dress shirt, a couple casual shirts, two or three blazers, a brown suit), but it was more than enough to help portray his character. The designer insisted on Sebastian not wearing clothes that were too informal, like sneakers, and not even a t-shirt. “Sebastian talks so much about keeping jazz alive, so it’s obvious he’d be inspired by previous generations”, the costume designer explained.
 
Costume and colour La La Land

Colour and Costume in La La Land

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in “La La Land”

 
They also made all the dresses Emma Stone dances in, while her every-day clothes were store-bought to give authenticity to the character, a present day striving actress. There is just one designer dress they used, the navy dress she wears at the end of the movie, and it is by Jason Wu. Zophres says it seemed right to have a designer dress for that scene, because she’s at a different point in her life. But it was Catherine Deneuve who, in fact, inspired the costume designer’s choice, namely the dress the French actress wore in a famous photograph taken in London, where she’s looking over her shoulder, dressed in a cross-cross bare-back black dress. Notably, the shapes and colours of the two dresses we see Mia in after she leaves for Paris and makes it as an actress, are different from her early on dresses, too. Form-fitting, and black and white, and navy, respectively, as opposed to the previous twirling silhouettes and the bright blue, yellow, green and pink.

In The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Catherine Deneuve wears a black dress and fur coat in the final encounter with Guy. Through much of the story, Geneviève has a joie-de-vivre approach to style, scallop-edged coats, macaron-hued cardigans, pastel shifts, and those bows – Jacques Demy asked his wife, film-maker Agnès Varda, to convince Catherine to change her hair style for the movie and Varda eventually made her sweep her bangs in an up-do loosely tied with a ribbon (“I felt naked without my bangs”, Catherine said about her new look, a vulnerability that played out well for her character). Geneviève’s outfit in the final sequence is a clear, mature departure from her colourful dresses as a teenager in love. Even her hair-do is more elaborate, but also more confined, less-free. Colour seems to have faded from Mia’s wardrobe, too, in that final part.
 
Costume and Colour The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Colour and Costume The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The final sequence, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

 
There is a clear resemblance in La La Land‘s ending to Geneviève and Guy’s departure. Both couples in both movies have missed their chance. “There is a bit of happiness in simply wanting happiness,” said Agnès Varda, quoting a line from her husband’s debut film, Lola (1961), and “Jacques clearly proclaims happiness as an intention” in his musical, she continues. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has a bitter ending – Geneviève and Guy happen to meet after a few years at Guy’s garage, the business he had dreamed of, and they merely exchange awkward pleasantries. Their conscience dictated their choices in life.
 
Costume and Colour La La Land

The final sequence, “La La Land”

 
Chazelle finds a way to make his film entirely his own through a unique presentation at the end. Sebastian and Mia, too, both reached the goals in life that first drew them together after that first chance encounter, but the finale is told completely through aesthetics, which, on the other hand, could be Chazelle’s poetic version of Demy’s choice to set his entire movie to song. The chance meeting of Mia and Sebastian turns into a dream of what could have been if everything “had turned out right”.

Chazelle takes the audience on a magical experience rarely seen since the heyday of musicals, a lavish dance sequence playing off Justin Hurwitz’s music pieces heard throughout the film, a final seven minutes without dialogue. Mia and Sebastian do not exchange any words when they meet after five years, but their looks and smiles at each other when she looks over her shoulder before leaving his jazz club say it all. It’s not bitter, it’s a bittersweet ending. They were guided by their separate dreams to make the choices they made, even though that meant leaving a common dream behind. Jacques Demy was the one who “wanted to make people cry” with his film, but it was Damien Chazelle’s final act, executed so artfully, that made me tear up. And I don’t even like musicals, remember?
 
sources: French television interview from 1964 featuring director Jacques Demy and composer Michel Legrand discussing the film / audio recordings of interviews with Catherine Deneuve (1983) and Michel Legrand (1991) at the National Film Theatre in London / the 2008 documentary “Once Upon A Time…The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (all of the above available on the Criterion Collection blu-Ray edition of the film) / interview with costume designer Mary Zophres, The Hollywood Reporter / interview with production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Reynolds-Wasco, The Architectural Digest

photos: movie and publicity stills from “La La Land” (Lionsgate/ Dale Robibette/AP) and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (Parc Film/ Madeleine Films/ Beta Film)

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