The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
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The musical story of star-crossed lovers who pledge their love until death, then have their love tested by a one year separation, Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) is notable for its often ambivalent, bittersweet approach to romance.
Both an homage and a rebuttal to the saccharine tendencies of American musicals, the story of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is told entirely in song, with characters singing every line of their dialogue. The effect is irrepressibly poetic as teenage Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) poignantly sing their affection, even as Genevieve's disapproving mother and Guy's military obligations conspire to part them.
Though it was shot on actual locations in the French port town of Cherbourg, the film nevertheless mimics the studio-bound artifice and stylization of the classical Hollywood musicals that inspired Demy. Bright, cheery colors predominate (the citizens of Cherbourg allowed Demy to paint their homes), which aptly reflect composer Michel Legrand's lyrical melodies.
While Hollywood musicals tended to emphasize rousing song and dance numbers and a frenzied energy, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was Demy's decidedly New Wave, analytical response to the form. Restrained and wistful, Demy embraces the more complicated emotions and tribulations running beneath such effusive romantic stories.
Demy's imaginative approach is evident from one of the film's first images, an overhead view of passersby on Cherbourg's busy streets shot from the rainfall's vantage, a dizzying perspective that sums up the innovative, unusual ambiance of this Grand Prize winner at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival.
Director: Jacques Demy
Producer: Mag Bodard
Screenplay: Jacques Demy
Cinematography: Jean Rabier
Editing: Anne-Marie Cotret, Monique Teisseire
Music: Michel Legrand
Principal Cast: Catherine Deneuve (Genevieve Emery), Nino Castelnuovo (Guy), Anne Vernon (Mme. Emery), Ellen Farner (Madeleine).
In French with English subtitles
by Felicia Feaster