English Title: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Original Title: Les parapluies de Cherbourg
Country: France, West Germany
Genre: Musical, Romance, Drama
Director: Jacques Demy
Writer: Jacques Demy
Cinematography: Jean Rabier
Music: Michel Legrand
A three-act musical (or four if one counts the final reunion independently) with all dialogue sung by its characters, the second of its unique kind I’ve watched so far, the previous one is Tom Hooper’s LES MISÉRABLES (2012), THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG is director Jacques Demy’s third feature, a controversial Palme d’Or winner, more for its groundbreaking technique than its own substance, nevertheless it instantly launched the starlet Catherine Deneuve into stardom and has initiated her extended and illustrious career not only limited in the French cinema.
Denueve’s glacial beauty is her calling card even in her earlier stage (the dismissive DONKEY SKIN 1970, another Demy-Denueve collaboration, does her wrong to disguise her as a free-spirit and spontaneous princess), at the age of 20, she plays a young girl Geneviève living with her widow mother Madame Emery (Vernon), they are running a chic umbrella shop in Cherbourg in 1957, Geneviève’s sweetheart is Guy (Castelnuovo), a young boy working in the local garage and lives with his auntie Élise (Perrey) and an orphan girl Madeleine (Farner).
The film is slickly divided into three parts: departure, absence and return, Guy is mandatorily drafted in the army in 1958, two lovers have to be split for two years. In the second act, told in Geneviève’s perspective, she is pregnant with Guy’s baby, but gradually persuaded by her mother to marry an affluent man Roland Cassard (Michel) and they left Cherbourg after the wedlock; and in the third act, Guy returns from the war, becomes despondent of Geneviève’s betrayal, but life must go on, he inherits some fortune from Élise and marries Madeleine, and they have a boy named François.
Years later, they inadvertently meet at the gas station owned by Guy, Geneviève is accompanied by their young daughter Françoise, always the most awkward reunion for two former lovers, the film ends in a more rational note when they gingerly trade conversations, leaving too many unsaid undertones flowing torrentially, and a timely farewell is a befitting coda to the lingering blues.
The story may be a bit sad and nondescript, but the biggest asset is its varicoloured locale settings, costumes and coiffure à la mode, even for the not-so-rich protagonists. Guy’s brown suit ill-matches his black shoe, nevertheless his azure and pink shirts are divine, as for Denueve and Vernon, the daughter-mother pair dominates the show every time with their distinctive flair for haute couture and colour compatibility.
Also, let’s not forget it is an out-and-out musical, singing voices are all dubbed at post-production nevertheless, French is already mellifluous in speaking, so the singing part sounds like an unremitting bombardment of chansons, which inconveniently degrades into monotony soon after, thus it does demand a more tonality-friendly ear to revel in the excessiveness, after all, it is a love letter to the sentimental romantics, a lovely treat for eyeballs and eardrums equally.