#58. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
Directed by: Jacques Demy
Written by: Jacques Demy
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) is Jacques Demy’s beautiful and bittersweet musical masterpiece. The film sees a young woman named Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) who falls in love with a handsome young auto mechanic named Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). Guy is eventually drafted into the Algerian War, and Geneviève is left at home with little to no contact to her love. She soon finds out that she is pregnant with Guy’s child, and after several failed attempts to contact Guy ends up marrying another man. When Guy returns home, he learns that Geneviève has moved on, and also begins to move on with his own life. Jacques Demy’s film is deeply romantic and tragic in a very relatable way, even if it is melodramatic in its best moments. Every moment of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is well-intentioned and sweet, telling a very basic, but endearing love story that spans several years. The songs featured throughout are beautiful and moving, and the film’s choreography and Demy’s attention to detail makes them all the more memorable. Demy and cinematographer Jean Rabier shot the film with a focus on gorgeous, vibrant colors that are one of my absolute favorite parts of the film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg looks and feels like a vivid, colorful dream – one I never wanted to leave. The performance of Catherine Deneuve as Geneviève is another of the film’s strongest points, delivering a sweet, playful, and deeply emotional role. Without Deneuve’s dedication to the performance, the love story between Guy and Geneviève would not have been nearly as compelling. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a beautiful, playful, and deeply moving picture that should be seen by all lovers of musical films, if only for its songs and its sickly sweet sense of romance.
#71. Playtime (1967)
Directed by: Jacques Tati
Written by: Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange, Art Buchwald
Starring: Jacques Tati
Playtime is French filmmaker Jacques Tati’s magnum opus – a truly indescribable experience, and one of the most memorable films I’ve ever seen. The ambitious comedy film almost exclusively uses visual and sound gags rather than relying on jokes – the only dialogue heard in Playtime is essentially treated as background noise. Tati’s film sees his famous character Monsieur Hulot (played by the director himself) lost in modern Paris. He encounters a young American tourist named Barbara throughout his day, with the two coming into contact on six separate occasions. These instances are the basis of Playtime, as the film is mainly comprised of six long, ambitious, and hilarious sequences. We see Hulot in an airport, in an office building, at a trade exhibition, in a block of apartments, a fancy restaurant, and finally in a carousel of cars on the way back to the airport. Monsieur Hulot seems to bring a subtle chaos with him everywhere he goes, which is where Tati’s famous brand of humor kicks in. Playtime is hilarious from the get-go, but not in a way I’ve ever been able to appreciate before this film. Tati employs a mixture of slapstick and absurd comedy in a way that makes viewers so excited to see what’s going to come next. Every sequence is more ridiculous than the one before it, building up to Playtime’s incredible restaurant sequence. The restaurant portion of the film is the longest sequence, and yet somehow manages to never grow tiring or boring. Every gag hits in the biggest way possible, and takes advantage of the remarkable set design. Tati created an ambitious set called Tativille, which is where most of his film takes place. The design of every single set shows a remarkable attention to detail, with most of the film’s gags originating from objects on the interiors of the stage. Tati uses the ambitious platform to deliver some stinging – but subtle – criticism of modern urbanity, which too few films are willing to tackle anymore. Playtime is a once in a lifetime film that we may never see duplicated – it really is that special. Nothing comes close to Jacques Tati’s unique sense of humor, and it’s unfortunate that we may never see another Tati in our lifetime.
#82. A Man Escaped (1956)
Directed by: Robert Bresson
Written by: Robert Bresson
Starring: Francois Leterrier, Charles Le Clainche, Maurice Beerblock, Roland Monod
Robert Bresson’s prison break film A Man Escaped is the closest movie I’ve seen to being the dictionary definition of “slow burn”. It clips along at a very deliberate pace, but not a single frame of Bresson’s film is wasted – nor is any moment boring or torturous in a negative sense. A Man Escaped is the kind of film that makes viewers squirm in their seat due to its sheer intensity – our protagonist comes so close to ruin on so many occasions, and you’re convinced that the next close call will be his final moment. A Man Escaped sees a young French Lieutenant named Fontaine as he is captured by the occupying Nazi forces, and subsequently taken to a high security prison where he is beaten and locked away. The young Fontaine immediately goes to work at trying to escape the confines of the prison, acquiring supplies from fellow inmates and working very slowly and quietly so as to not be caught. Fontaine’s cell is routinely moved or inspected, leading to him coming close to being found out a number of times. Along the way he makes friends with prisoners he can only talk to from his cell, all while evading detection and working away at an escape route. Bresson’s A Man Escaped is quite possibly one of the most intense, most rewarding procedural films I’ve ever seen – each watch of the film gets better and better. Even upon rewatches, I constantly find myself asking if the young Fontaine will be found out, or writhing at each sudden sound or movement coming from the Fontaine and the prison guards. It’s certainly a slow watch, but the journey taken in A Man Escaped is absolutely worth every agonizing minute.