The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

"Essential"

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Review


The Umbrellas of Cherbourg stunned audiences at the Cannes Film Festival in 1964, landing the prestigious Palme d'Or. What the audience responded to was a triple whammy of film innovation that's just as powerful today as it was then: An explosion of color on film in league with the best of the Technicolor musicals, an entirely-sung script that's anchored by Michel Legrand's heart-busting theme, but most of all the breakout performance of Catherine Deneuve. She'd show off her range as an actress most powerfully three years later in Belle De Jour. But here's where she - along with the film musical itself - is the most gorgeous and captivating.

Deneuve is Genevieve, who somewhat sullenly assists her widowed mother (Anne Vernon) in running an umbrella shop in Cherbourg, a provincial town of cobblestone streets. Just 17 years old (though Deneuve was 20 when she took the role), she falls impetuously and deeply in love with Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), a charming garage mechanic. His head cocks sweetly when he sings to her, and part of the magic of the film is in watching the two stand thisclose to one another and moon as they sing.

But soon, of course, the plot gets complicated. Genevieve's mother disapproves of a low-class grease monkey courting her daughter, especially when the umbrella shop is failing. Guy himself is called into military service, which results in one of the greatest goodbyes-at-the-train-station scenes ever, but also a dark note: Genevieve is pregnant. Enter the wealthy Roland (Marc Michel), who offers not only to marry her but also to be the understanding father to Genevieve's daughter.

All of this could easily have descended into low-rent melodrama, easily written off as a cheap imitation of American musicals. But by 1964 Jacques Demy was a consummate director who knew how to merge music and a melancholy love story in 1961's Lola. Cherbourg adds to that strength wonderful splashes of color - oranges and pinks and reds and blues that appear in the clothing, umbrellas, roads - the whole world of the movie.

And on top of all this, Demy works in an ending that's as poignant, sweet, and sad as any musical produced on either side of the Atlantic. Moving ahead a few years later, both Guy and Genevieve have both learned a few hard lessons, and they've both grown up a little; the bright colors give in to the grays of a rising snowstorm. They meet, they sing, and at the exact moment that Michel Legrand's melody spikes sadly higher, Cherbourg cements its place as one of the finest musicals ever made. The heart-in-your-throat feeling it prompts has been attempted many times since, and the results have been comparable (Demy's own Young Girls of Rochefort), fair-to-middling (Moulin Rouge), or despicably insulting (Dancer in the Dark, which reprised Deneuve). But only in Cherbourg is there the perfect blend of playfulness, beauty, and pathos that every musical strives for.

Aka Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.



The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Facts and Figures

Run time: 91 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 16th December 1964

Distributed by: Zeitgeist Films

Production compaines: Parc Film, Madeleine Films, Beta Film

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Geneviève Emery, as Guy, as Madame Emery (Mutter), Mireille Perrey as Tante Élise, as Roland Cassard, Ellen Farner as Madeleine, as Aubin, Pierre Caden as Bernard, Jean-Pierre Dorat as Jean

Also starring: ,

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