The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a 1964 musical by French filmmaker Jacques Demy. Starring Catherine Deneuve in her breaking role, this colorful, almost expressionistic film tells the story of young love and how your first major relationship will always stay with you. It doesn’t matter where the years, months, and the choices may take you. Considered to have one of the best endings in film history, Cherbourg is more opera than musical. The music will get into your head whether you want it to or not.
The film tells the story of Genevieve Emery (Deneuve), a shy and fragile girl who works at an umbrella shop with her mother, and her relationship with Guy Foucher (an extremely handsome Nino Castelnuovo). They love each other, but Guy has yet to serve in the French army, which is mandatory for all young French men. When he gets his draft notice, he leaves Genevieve for two years. Not only does he leave her to serve in the army but she becomes pregnant after he leaves.
This is a story about how Genevieve’s situation shapes her life and the people around her.
Genevieve’s mother, Mrs. Emery (Anne Vernon), disapproves of Genevieve and Guy’s relationship. She refuses to accept that Genevieve wants to marry Guy. Mostly, she disapproves of Guy’s lack of money. Mrs. Emery is a woman with rich tastes. That’s obvious when Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) steps onto the scene and starts making eyes at Genevieve.
This film has every staple of the romantic drama/musical trope that is seen in other musicals of the era, though there’s no dancing. There is simply melodrama: over the top emotions and love a plenty. There are, however, also choices that impact the happiness and the lives of the ensemble at play here. The biggest choice is made by Genevieve. I’m not going to spoil the ending because, as I said, it’s one of the most celebrated in film history. The reason for that is it’s cemented firmly in reality. Despite the singing and the melodrama, the ending is not something you’d expect. I know I didn’t. This makes it quite a nice departure from the usual musical ending.
The acting isn’t very strong, but the cast is very pretty. I think Castelnuovo is definitely worth sitting through this film for an hour and a half. He’s extremely easy on the eyes as is Deneuve. So blonde. So French. So jealous of her perfect skin tone.
Vanity aside, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a gorgeous film. The colors are bright. They certainly pop whether it’s raining, snowing or the sun is shining in any scene. The music isn’t bad either. Again, if you can get past the fact that every single line of dialogue is sung then you’ll be set. Essentially, if you’re a fan of operas, then this is the film for you.
While I’ll never watch this film again, I can appreciate it for what it tried to do and what it accomplished. If you consider yourself a true cinephile, then you owe it to yourself to check this beautiful French film out. If not for the colors, the music and the beautiful people in it, then for the artistry and the experimentation with the musical form.