"A feast for the eyes, ears, and heart"
Dir. and writ. Jacques Demy; feat. Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel, Ellen Farner, Mireille Perrey (UNRATED)
Truly unique movies are hard to come by. But if there's any movie out there that is quite like Umbrellas of Cherbourg, seeing the 1964 French film is a powerful enough experience to push it out of one's mind.
The movie's a sort of pop-jazz opera with music by Michel Legrand. There's not a single word of dialogue in it that isn't sung, and the score seeps into every corner of the tale. Certain characters get their own style of song, and though the style of music isn't always in keeping with what's going on, some of the songs mesh style with purpose in truly eloquent ways.
The film isn't just a musical, though — it's an opera of art direction as well. Every single detail on the set is picked to fit a design scheme, from primary-color bicycles to monochrome striped wallpaper. Throughout the story's first act, in which a handsome young couple is bursting with love, the imagery is doing the same thing; the film was painstakingly restored in the '90s by the director's widow (Agnès Varda, a respected filmmaker herself), and the vibrancy of the colors on the screen could make your eyes pop. — John DeFore
FENCELINE: A COMPANY TOWN DIVIDED
"Clean air shown as a Shell game"
Dir. Slawomir Grünberg; prod. Grünberg & Jane Greenberg
Guiding the camera through the streets of Norco, Louisiana (located along the stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge nicknamed "Cancer Alley"), 70-year-old Sal Digirolamo, who retired from the nearby Shell chemical plant after 40 years, boasts of its aging population: "We don't die too often here in Norco." In a separate tour, Margie Richard, a retired schoolteacher, points out house after house whose occupants have succumbed to asthma or cancer. Digiroloma is white, Richard black, and Fenceline is a study in environmental racism, how anxiety over toxic waste is a function of where one lives and where one lives is determined by race.
Fenceline, the fifth entry in the 15th season of P.O.V., PBS's superb summer series of independent nonfiction films, will be broadcast locally by KLRN-TV on July 23. — Steven G. Kellman