The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)


Jacques Demy directs Catherine Deneuve, Anne Vernon and Nino Castelnuovo in this bittersweet musical about a young French couple who compromise their puppy love when financial worries, pregnancy and the draft for the Algerian war intrude on their happiness.  

This DVD has sat in its cellophane wrapper from roughly since when I first bought a multi region player back in the early 00s. Thanks to Damien Chazelle citing it as an influence on the wondrous LaLa Land I finally tore that packaging off and gave it a chance. You can see the shared DNA between both musicals but Umbrellas is the more ambitious, if less emotionally gratifying movie. Essentially a kitchen sink drama with every line of dialogue sung to cover up or amplify the emotions being played with (sometimes even mocking them). Like LaLa Land, if you are young girl who likes happy endings, then this can eventually feel like a cruel trick by “FIN”. To make such an initially jaunty, poppy experience reach such a real destination will grate with many. Adults know sadness and regrets frame the good things in life though, holds our nicer emotions in place and gives them a point of reference. In fact what starts out as an achingly colourful movie (every frame in the first act could be from Golden Era MGM), slowly fades to white as the characters mature. The burning pinks and pastel blues of the central location, an umbrella shop, become a white walled laundrette by close. The final chance encounter by the leads takes place at a snow covered Esso station – so bleak and so blank compared to the kaleidoscope opening. We watch the brightness fade from their lives as they settle for a modicum of happiness apart. The normally brilliant Deneuve isn’t particularly stretched by her naïf though she looks stunning as always, but the more complex work by Anne Vernon, as the forthright but equally caring mother, stays in the memory the most once the DVD is popped back in its pile. Lovely stuff.




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