Director: Jacques Demy
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Casteinuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel, Ellen Farner, Mireille Perrey, Jean Champion, Pierre Caden, Jean-Pierre Dorat
On a day like today where it literally has not stopped raining for even a moment since I woke this morning, I found it only fitting to finally get to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. This having been a personal recommendation of a good friend of mine, I was quite excited to see it. Actually, perhaps rather than excited, the word would be 'interested'. I walked into this film knowing that it would be unusually pleasant–even if perhaps at first it stylistically offends. Not sure what that meant really, I popped the dvd in, and was not-so-surprised to find the forecast to be true.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is entirely a musical, but not in the usual sense. Instead of random outbreaks of song, every single phrase of dialogue is sung in the movie. And even further, there is no repeating melody, no chorus, no predictability. The entire movie rolls along with a symphonic (and sometimes jazzy snazzy) score, and the characters seem to sing out their lines with whatever little melody they please. For the first 30 minutes at least... I have to wholly admit that this is not only alarming, but extremely uncomfortable.
Soon enough, however, you become interested in the 'mood changes' brought on by the background music, and in some ways, the singing makes the French subtitles easier to follow.
The story is of Geneviéve (Deneuve– aka Belle de Jour!), 17-year-old daughter who lives with her widowed umbrella-saleswoman mother (Vernon) in Cherbourg. She falls hopelessly and secretly in love with a 20-year-old mechanic named Guy (Casteinuovo), and when the two make plans to marry, Geneviéve's mother strictly forbids it. When Guy gets drafted and sent to the war in Algeria for two years, the two lovers consummate their relationship, and in the process, Geneviéve conceives. The two lovers promise to wait for one another.
But just three months after Guy's departure, Geneviéve finds herself weak–physically and emotionally. With only discouragement from her mother, she struggles to think about Guy at all. When a wealthy jewel salesman (Michel) claims love-at-first-sight and asks for her hand in marriage, she follows her mother's advice and accepts. She is married only a month or so later–just a short few months after Guy's initial leave!
When he is injured and comes back to Cherbourg early, he is devastated to find the truth about Geneviéve's decisions. In depression, he takes to drinking, sleeping with prostitutes, quits his job, and mourns the death of his Aunt. With the help of his Aunt's former nurse, he comes back to life through successfully starting his own gas station. After marrying her, Geneviéve and Guy find each other for the first time in an unexpected place on an unexpected evening.
The film is separated into three parts: the departure, the absence, and the return. And while the plot doesn't boast anything new, it's all in the presentation that sets Umbrellas apart. The first French musical ever to be shot in color, it's a splendor of a film, albeit one that requires patience and an open-mind. If you have any heart for musicals, guaranteed that you'll catch yourself smiling a few times at the very least... if not secretly captivated by the end.