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Director

Jacques Demy

Starring

  • Catherine Deneuve as Geneviève Emery
  • Nino Castelnuovo as Guy Foucher
  • Anne Vernon as Madame Emery
  • Marc Michel as Roland Cassard

A colourful but also melancholy musical of love and circumstances changing it, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is if nothing else an experience from beginning to end. This is largely down to the tribute to old musicals and the undercutting of it with an aching sadness not often seen in films of that nature.

In the French town of Cherbourg, 1957, where it seems to rain almost constantly, a passionate love is at play between 17-year-old Geneviève Emery and mechanic Guy Foucher. Geneviève works in her mother’s umbrella shop that is about to go into financial dire straits. The love shared between Geneviève and Guy is intense and idealistic with them hardly going a minute without thinking of the other. But, the mother of Geneviève disapproves of the relationship and wants her daughter to marry for security. Guy and Geneviève plan to marry and have a daughter, but fate has different plans. Around this time, Guy is drafted to serve in the Algerian War, meaning that he will be separated from his beloved for a long time. After a farewell of spending the night together and saying goodbye at the train station, Geneviève learns she is pregnant and is left in a predicament. Her mother has the idea to marry diamond merchant Roland Cassard, who is entranced by Geneviève. The marriage is to be one of convenience and after hearing only once from Guy, Geneviève makes her decision. Her decision in the end has far-reaching consequences and a different outcome than expected for her and Guy.

Jacques Demy was clearly a man with a vision to use certain tropes from classic Hollywood and mould them into something different and beguiling for us all. His eye for colours and unorthodox approach present his vision to us in a glorious way. His prowess crafts a story that’s enchanting as it is tragic and totally spellbinding. Moments really stick with you from this film. The collection of colourful umbrellas that cover the titles, the love shared between the lovers at the heart of things and a really tear inducing farewell at the train station. As the lovers are parted and the camera pulls away from their embrace, leaving Geneviève alone, the music swells to heavenly heights and shows the power of cinema over emotions .While a musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is anything but traditional. For starters, every word is sung, no matter if it’s just something mundane. This brings with it a level of fantasy, that is counteracted by the seriousness of subject matter and the ultimate tragedy of it all. We really feel every word sung because of its intensity and sincerity on show. The colour design that really pops with candy and pastel shades in every lovingly rendered frame also acts as a juxtaposition to the sadness of the central love story and the way life doesn’t always work out for us. The main story is quite simple when you look at it, but it’s the telling of it that truly makes it the classic it is revered as. It’s a boy meets girl situation told with sophistication and something that alternates between nostalgic romance and heartfelt loss. It may look like the kind of Technicolor extravaganza that MGM where so good at making back in the day, but under the surface is a real feeling of something bittersweet. This adds to the beauty of the film as it isn’t part and parcel and here’s your happy ending, it goes down another path that I respect. Cherbourg is not afraid to defy convention in its own way. Now no mention of this film would be complete without mentioning the ever-present score from Michel Legrand. As every line of dialogue is sung, a nice rhythm is established in proceedings. The most haunting refrain that translates into English as ‘I Will Wait For You’ is the music you’ll remember the most for its romanticism and ambience. Believe me, it will take a while to shake.

This is the film that introduced the world to Catherine Deneuve and what an introduction. She gives a gentle, charming and melancholy performance that really touches you. It’s all in her angelic face and soulful eyes as she goes through the pain of love and circumstance. Nino Castelnuovo is equally as good, finding hopes and dreams in Guy’s face and his outlook, which eventually gets changed over the years. The two really sell the romance and idealism of the couple, which says a lot considering that they spend large stretches of the film apart. Their first interactions are gorgeously played, while there is a more serious tone when they meet years later. It’s the kind of chemistry many movies dream of having between a romantic pair. Anne Vernon and Marc Michel round out the cast, but it’s the romantic two at heart of the movie that you’ll remember.

An unusual but wholly engaging and moving undertaking by the talented Jacques Demy and his visual(not to mention musical team), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is classic movie watching for all.

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