No Jacques Demy film after The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was ever quite so colorful, so pattern on pattern or beautifully contradictory visually. The intensity of feeling in the locked tight, wallpapered chambers of that film seems simultaneously sullen and vibrant. The feelings are all over the place, and the colors speak to that spill, but the patterned stripes and foliage keep trying to lock things into a sort of pulsating stasis. Catherine Deneuve, particularly, seems to cower in the frame, traumatized by the schizoid frequencies. It’s the sixties, and Victorian decor is, briefly, possessed and reanimated by psychedelia; will be, until the possibilities exhaust themselves and political upheaval revives austerity. There’s that. But the schema works as a strange metaphor for boundless feeling bubbling up through provincial decorum, too; expressing a sense of emotion pushing at the limits of skin, the pressures of adulthood closing in on youth, reality outpacing fantasy.
The furniture and art in these rooms look to have been inherited from previous generations. The colors and patterns might merely be projection, hallucinated by Deneuve, what she wants of life superimposed onto what she can reasonably expect to be given. No one makes the right decisions in the film, but the wrong decisions are the only available resources. Deneuve marries a wealthy jeweler. Her first love and the father of her child goes off to war and, learning about Deneuve’s marriage upon his return, marries a woman who arguably loves him more than he does her. The riotous colors seem to distract and confuse everyone, and they end up conducting themselves in keeping with the inherited furniture, arranging predictably.
The deployment of color and pattern speaks to the silly gorgeousness of love, not just first love or unrequited love but love in general, in all its shaky, spazzy permutations: the way it can clash with its environment, refusing to conform to common sense; the way it tends to take over like a virus, changing everything, distorting reality, then informing it; the way love is an environment, its own mental mise-en-scène; the way it embroiders consciousness with ever elaborate, ever more unlikely displacements, requiring and refusing adjustment.
Four years later, Deneuve appeared in Buñuel‘s Belle De Jour, a far less colorful film but equally preoccupied with confinement and the psychological strategies enlisted to escape it. Deneuve is Buñuel’s furniture in that film and resists his arrangements even as she acquiesces to the suffocation of his upholstery. It feels like a sequel that wakes from the dream of the first film and tries to revive it. All the possibilities of color have been drained out of the picture, confined somewhere in the psyche. Deneuve keeps trying to break out of this vice grip – by sexual violence even, if that’s what it takes to rupture things. She keeps locking herself in rooms that have forgotten what color looks like.