There are some telling moments in the first half of Les parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg], where the sung dialogue reveals a self-awareness of the strangeness of a non-stop movie musical. The first instance happens at the beginning of the film. Guy is talking/singing with two of his coworkers about his evening plans to attend Bizet’s Carmen at the theater on a date. One of Guy’s coworkers in the garage complains about opera, “I don’t like operas. Movies are better… All that singing gives me a pain.”
That he says (sings!) this while in the midst of a movie musical/opera is a conspicuous moment of self-awareness. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, the audience has been treated to title music and a jazzy set-up for the garage. The initial shock of non-stop singing still lingers for many first-time viewers and to have a character indicate that this is difficult may help win some over to the film’s assaultive aesthetic (and perhaps its melodrama).
Later in the film’s first part, after Geneviève and Guy consummate their love the night before he goes off to war, Geneviève confesses to her mother that she lied about her evening outing. When she says “I cannot live without him,” her mother comforts her by saying, “Stop crying. Look at me. People only die of love in movies.”
People also die of love in opera, and the movie where this statement is made is basically an opera. The self-awareness in that moment is quite funny and could potentially cause some cognitive dissonance. The style of the film is as foregrounded as ever – the pattern on Madame Emerg’s bathrobe matches the wallpaper – and yet, the film pushes it even further in the audience’s attention by foregrounding the artifice of a movie musical. It’s quite clever as a style and places the film firmly within a post-New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) sensibility.