The Umbrellas of Cherbourg-1964
Starring-Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo
Scott’s Review #911
Reviewed June 17, 2019
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), translated in French to mean Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, is a darling and daring film, unique like none other, consisting of all dialogue being sung recitative, like an opera or a stage musical. But wait there’s more. The film has an abundance of colorful and dazzling set designs that enrich the entire experience amid the lovely French culture and atmosphere. Interspersing one of the loveliest melodies imaginable and the result is a stoic treasure. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and several other nominations.
The film is divided into three parts and moves along chronologically over the course of six years. Part One is The Departure, Part Two is The Absence and Part Three is The Return, each title representing a meaningful part of the story. Madame Emery (Anne Vernon) and her sixteen-year-old daughter Genevieve (Deneuve) own a struggling umbrella boutique in Cherbourg, France. Genevieve falls in love with Guy (Castelnuovo), a local mechanic, and they have sex the night before he is drafted to war, resulting in an unexpected pregnancy.
Madame Emery and Genevieve must decide what options are best when she is courted by wealthy jeweler Roland (Mark Michel), who is unaware of her pregnancy. Genevieve and Guy continue to write letters to each other as she softens towards Roland and a decision is made. An injured Guy returns from the war and events kick into high gear as the love birds face uncertain future amid surrounding barriers to their happiness.
To embrace the flavor and pacing of the film takes a few minutes of patience- like some viewers becoming accustomed to sub-titles in general, which the film also possesses, the singing is initially quite jarring but before long is to be embraced and appreciated for its unique nature. To stress the point, the film is not a standard musical, with songs mixed in with conventional dialogue, each line of the film is sung.
Deneuve, who with this role gained wider recognition beyond simply a French audience already familiar with her work, shines brightly in the lead role, never looking lovelier. The young lady, hardly appearing just sixteen (in truth she was twenty-one) carries the film with a chic and sophisticated style perfectly in tune with the 1960’s time-period. Her magnificent grace and elegance make her the primary reason to tune in as she sings her lines flawlessly and with unforced precision.
The story is unequivocally a basic one of girl meets boy, boy is drafted into the army, girl becomes pregnant, girl meets another suitor, boy returns home as conflict arises, but the magic is what director Jacques Demy does with the piece. Everyday life is presented in situational scenes adding substance and commonalities. Genevieve and Guy are in love and face external as well as internal obstacles. At the same time Madeleine (Ellen Farner), a quiet young woman who looks after Guy’s aunt, is secretly in love with Guy, as she adds a secret weapon to the film.
The audience cares for the characters, especially Genevieve and Guy, but the supporting characters add a robust quality worthy of mention. Anne Vernon is pivotal as Madame Emery, stylish and lavish, she is both concerned for her daughter’s well-being, while slyly seeing opportunities to save her boutique. Guy’s sickly Aunt Elise provides security and love to those who heed her advice and is remarkably played by actress Mireille Perrey.
The vivid colors and sets make The Umbrellas of Cherbourg tough to forget. Stark and florescent painted pinks, greens and blues, mainly on the walls, provide zest and flavor, a grand style all its own. With bright and crisp designs, the result is reminiscent of a lavish Hollywood musical, but with a cultured French twist. The result is perfect, and one can easily immerse themselves in both the singing and the artistry. The reoccurring main song “I Will Wait for You” (the main theme, also known as “Devant le garage”) is delicious and emotional as it appears in many poignant scenes.
For those seeking a charismatic and distinctive experience with nuances and a hint of experimentation will undoubtedly sink their teeth into this fruity and tasty treat. With French atmosphere for miles, the film is simply encompassing of all that is good and cultured about French film. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) will entertain and unabashedly knock your socks off, with something grandiose and sizzling with flavor.
Oscar Nominations: Best Foreign Language Film, Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Song-“I Will Wait for You”, Best Music Score-Substantially Original, Best Scoring of Music-Adaptation or Treatment