Les parapluies de Cherbourg 1964
Not everyone has a point where a work of art taps into something very deep within and very private and causes a flood of tears. Speaking for myself I can say that my own life has often engaged me enough to shed tears for hours on end. Even in one singular case for a few days. But for a play or a book or a film or any work of art to reduce me to sobbing, long after the work of art has finished, is to have experienced something either very simple or profound.
I’ve lived my life treading – I’d like to say carefully, but it is more like missteps – the thin line that separates the merry-go-rounds from the rollercoasters. I can live in the land of tears and pain for years or live in the land of brain and experiencing not-much-short-of nothing.
When my brain cannot cope with the information it receives, causing an emotional reaction, it can recognize it for what it is and deal with it, or shut down. When it shuts down, it could be for a few minutes or a few hours or a few years. All three have happened.
If I’m in a period of (not deliberately) distancing my brain from my emotions there are only a few things that can break that barrier.
Number 1 is alcohol which lowers the level for enforcing the things which inhibit us. That often works against the fundamental judgement of what my brain is willing to allow and prone to reject but it allows me to embrace anger and the full display that anger has at its beck and call.
Number 2 is pain. This lowers the threshold of what I want to reject, which is – mostly – intense emotions, and what I can reject.
Number 3 is children. Having children and watching them develop and wanting to be a better experience for them than I had growing up is another, which bit by bit, allows emotion to creep in.
Number 4 is beauty. In period of being emotionally connected this one – beauty – affects me a lot. Occasionally, in periods where I’m not affected by many emotions – outside of those that alcohol or pain or children allow access – beauty gets under my skin.
Number 5 is identification – especially when mixed with alcohol or pain or children – and understanding sadness at these times can be so overwhelming it literally overwhelms me.
Today was a day of many things. Like the last eight days, it was a day of intense pain due to an injury to my ribs, cartilage and muscles. I didn’t take my panadeine forte and when I picked up my girls (7 and 5) from school I was in considerable pain – breathing, walking, talking and driving. In my home I sat with my 7-year old while she did a practice and I was patient with her until it got to a point where she wanted to learn something new. While practising I was patient. When she tried to move ahead and learn something knew I became impatient and horrible. I tried to be calm but her lack of recognition of basic patterns of the relation of notes in music to each other on a stave, and her ability to look at a note in isolation and recognize it, but her inability to recognize the same notes when hidden amongst many other notes, made me angry. Impatience became anger. Doing both girl’s bedtime by myself led to asking help from my wife when she got home to get the five-year old in bed so I could finish the routine with the seven-year old.
As my wife and I sat by each other on the lounge in our living room, recognizing that she was turning forty-five in two hours, I admitted I had nothing for her birthday. I hadn’t organised the girls to write birthday cards, or present from the girls, or a present from me, or a card from me, or a banner to display, or a special meal or a cake, or anything. Sure, I’ve got badly injured ribs and it’s hard to walk, get in a car, or drive a car, but it’s even harder to roll over in bed. But to get anywhere to organize anything this week is pretty much impossible. To admit this lack of foresight even more galling. To have to pick the girls up when I’m struggling to even walk because of the pain, and not feel allowed to ask for help, is worse. To be cranky and mean and horrible and nasty to those three around me in the last 48-hours when the pain has been unrelenting for the first time in eight days, is unforgiveable.
To realise that my wife is having the eleventh birthday I have been around to witness and she is still here despite the fact that her first birthday was before I had my job with the SSO and this birthday is the first birthday since my job with the SSO ended, nine birthdays in between, is tough on my self-esteem. To have curve-balls like accidentally falling several feet onto rocks, my ribs smashing directly on them, without a hand to soften the impact, is unexpected. Then there was the little matter of the Australian cricket team, or some of its members cheating, and being caught cheating, which unsettled me to the point I couldn’t watch the last two days of the Third Test of Australia versus South Africa.
Then, tonight. I didn’t get to Lane Cove Library to hire Viridiana or The Discreet Charm or to Daniel’s place to borrow Belle de jour, so I thought I’d watch Hiroshima mon amour tonight. I put it on a thumb drive and then realised that I hadn’t returned The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It was in my car with the other DVDs and books. It was the film that David Stratton had nominated as one of his favourites from 1964 before showing a lesser Bunuel film, Diary of a Chambermaid. He showed a clip last Thursday, which I couldn’t make sense of. It could have been the end of the film, or something dramatic in the middle. I had no idea.
I’ve borrowed this film at least seven times before and not watched it. I don’t know why. I know I’ve always been looking for films by a specific director or from a particular country to match what I’m watching but I don’t know why I kept rejecting The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and returning it to the library unwatched.
I’ve never heard of the director in any other context or for any other film. I do know it did not appear on the BFI 2012 Top 100 list but it did appear on the list of Time Out and Time magazine’s 100 films to watch.
I know of the composer of the music because I have the piano music for several themes he and Francis Lai have composed for movies. My regard for him is higher than any others because I love playing I Will Wait For You and The Windmills of My Mind. Then a decade later I came across his score to Yentl which is one of the most inspired scores, full of the greatest melodies in a musical where people often sing their thoughts. I have played Yentl‘s music on the piano for three decades as well the aforementioned songs. Years before that a score of his for an American tv movie, Brian’s Song (1981) made me weep so much that when I was in Japan in 1985 and I found an arrangement of that melody in a book of film themes for piano, despite the fact that no other themes interested me I bought it anyway.
In December last year when I set up my SONOS system to play LPs through the house on the SONOS system The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was the album that was nearest to my fingers so I put it on. Four days ago I played a piece of music on the piano by Michel Legrand from Picasso Summer and tonight I played on the piano his melody from a movie called Best of Friends. One of the Godard films two weeks ago had a strange credit for Legrand. It was something like possibly the last film score by Michel Legrand. Last week David Stratton mentioned The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was one of those films made in 1964. Tomorrow I was returning The Umbrellas of Cherbourg DVD – unwatched to Lane Cove Library for the 8th, 9th, 10th time – I don’t know anymore as I’ve lost count. The DVDs were in my car to return tomorrow and I had to walk outside and retrieve this one. The final decision came down to the fact that I had no more Bunuel to watch and had played a new – difficult – Legrand piece on the piano tonight.
To delay The Umbrellas of Cherbourg any longer was now heading towards the land of ridiculousness. It was the opportune time.