Of course you could say that the whole of ‘Les Parapluies..’ is one long song – it is after all a seamless piece of sung dialogue –recitative, like opera – from beautiful beginning to beautiful end.
I watched the film one evening, while I was still living with my parents, presumably because there was ‘nothing else on’, or perhaps I convinced them it would help my A level French studies. It’s hard to imagine Mam and Dad watching it with me (Did she knit her way through it? Did he read the Echo? ‘Watching’, in the same way, perhaps, in which I ‘watch’ TV with my family –doing a jigsaw on the coffee table, doing ebay negotiations or playing scrabble on the laptop) but –at an impressionable age, of course –I found the whole thing very poignant; the delicious sadness of that final scene stays with me –soft snow falling on a petrol station in the dark …
I don’t know if the main protagonists –the delectable Catherine Deneuve and… the bloke -sang their own parts [no they didn’t – note to self:Check on Wikipedia before writing! ] or whether they were dubbed, but the sound was sweet, clear and affecting, and the music, like all great opera, soon made the unnatural device of singing everything (even the most mundane, casual remark) seem as natural as breathing.
The particular ‘song’ I’m thinking of here I always assumed was called ‘Ne me quittes pas’ which the Deneuve character begs her boyfriend more than once during the lyric. Perhaps Jacques Brel’s song of the same name meant that Michel Legrand thought that he would call his something else, and popularise it internationally under its English title (‘I Will Wait for You’). But I’m just guessing.
The song covers the pivotal part of the narrative. The young man announces that he has been drafted to do his National Service and will be away for two years; she is distraught, not sure how she can cope with such a long absence; since this is their last night together, he tenderly leads her up to his room (in the familial apartment) where they will have a night of physical congress to remember (and from which, of course, a conception occurs). The song covers all that dialogue –the revelation, the anguish, the tender reassurances, and also in fact covers their goodbye the following day – remarkable that the one song spans so much of that central narrative without it appearing strung out or contrived, and the romantic sweeps and swoops of its melody are entirely appropriate and entirely captivating.
I was reintroduced to the song through the singing of Nana Mouskouri who, on her appropriately titled album ‘the Exquisite Nana Mouskouri’ gives a sensitive, faultless rendition of the song – in French, I think. Yes, certainly: ‘No je ne pourrai jamais vivir sans toi…’ or something like that. ‘O mon amour, ne me quittes pas,’ she sings, soaring confidently and sympathetically over the gorgeously rich orchestral accompaniment.[ More than just a pair of glasses, that woman. More even than a campaign for the return of the Elgin marbles.]
And yet from somewhere, I’m also familiar with its English ‘translated’ incarnation –‘the clock will tick away the hours one by one..’ . Still, it’s the French that will give me the goosebumps, and send me back to that first viewing, that uniquely moving 1964 film and all of the ways in which it touches the trembling consciousness rawly aware of the potency of love.