The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
- Jacques Demy
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Wednesday, August 11, 2004
The story has seventeen-year-old Genevičve falling hopelessly in love with a young mechanic, Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). He loves her as much, and proposes to marry her, to which Genevičve’s mother, Madame Emery (Anne Vernon), strongly opposes. The latter, a widow who owns an umbrella store (whose name is the same as the film’s title), hopes for a better, safer future for her daughter, and considers her love for Guy immature and impulsive.
The lovers, however, obviously don’t agree, and consider their union sacred and definitive. So when Guy is summoned to the army for two years, their story becomes tragic. They say goodbye, promising to wait for each other, and finally split. What destiny has at stake for them, however, is far more tragic.
Just remembering this film to write about it makes me cry. It’s one of the most romantic and heartbreaking film pieces I’ve ever seen, despite its story being nothing far from ordinary. All right, there are aspects of the story that don’t happen to everyone, but at its core, it’s a tale of lovers separated by fate whose circumstances lead to unsatisfying conclusions for themselves as a couple. However, it’s presented in such a sumptuous way that it’s hard not to be immersed in the drama.
Every dialogue in the film is sung. Scripted by Demy, with unforgettable music by Michel Legrand, every scene pulls us into its universe and we’re compelled by the romance and the drama at every turn. Genevičve and Guy’s farewell, to the tune of “Je Ne Pourrai Jamais Vivre Sans Toi” (or “I Will Wait for You”), is a magnificent cinematic event, tragic to say the least, and also full of romance, so much so that it made the song a worldwide hit. That’s only one example among many the film offers of its capacity to absorb the viewer in its wonderful reality.
As said, the film is also a tribute to Hollywood musicals. Its colorful sets (decorated with dayglo paint) and cinematography are clear proofs of it. This works not only in being an homage, but also, since the presentation of the romance is wondrous and dreamlike, the sad denouement becomes even more tragic than possibly intended, and is sure to carve the film in our minds, in a bittersweet manner rarely seen in classic Hollywood musicals.
Catherine Deneuve is lovely, to say the least, in the lead. Her delicate presence suits the role to a tee, from the beginning as a fragile but passionate teenager to the end as a cold socialite woman. Castelnuovo’s performance is very heartfelt and honest, I couldn’t help identifying with his role and it’s because of his frank characterization. Other cast members well worth mentioning are Marc Michel as a young jewel dealer who falls in love with Genevičve, and Ellen Farner as a girl secretly (or not so secretly) in love with Guy. And of course, Vernon’s support as Genevičve’s mother is fantastic, as is Mireille Perrey’s as Guy’s ill aunt.
A problem some people have with this movie is indeed that there isn’t one word of dialogue outside of a song. I can’t see why they got tired of this. I found it beautiful, but especially, I didn’t think one word was out of place or unnecessary. I thought if the movie was not a musical, the words would mostly be the same, so if there’s music to make the process so special, it’s welcome for all I know.
I say, this is a must-see of the musical genre!
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