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The music is lovely, Catherine Deneuve is beautiful and the story will tear you apart.
on January 30, 2016
The word "Masterpiece" is thrown about often in the worlds of film and music but in this case this is the real thing. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of those rare instances where everything came together in a film in a serendipitous way that would never be duplicated. Not only that, but made by two up and coming young men who had only done two films before with a cast of mostly unknowns. Then, to top it all off, it would not just be a musical, but a film sung completely through like opera, something completely unique and untried. Try selling a concept like that to one of today's studios. Fortunately the early sixties was a much looser time with many movie studios and open minds willing to try new things.
The director was Jacques Demy, whose first film, Lola (1961) included music but was shot in the more usual black and white. His co-creator was Michel Legrand, already known as a jazz pianist who had had hit albums and even toured America. The music would be light,, but not operetta; it would be updated to include strong influences of chanson, pop and jazz with a little Baroque counterpoint thrown in (Legrand had been classically trained). This time the film would be shot in super-saturated color with sets painted vibrant, almost expressionist colors. And it all would center around a young and virtually unknown Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo as Genevieve and Guy, the very personification of young love in a rainy Spring.
The resulting film is completely transporting. The story is very old, the treatment very new and the end result is something to be experienced. The singing somehow seems completely natural, more natural in a way, than films with spoken dialogue that break into songs from time to time. Here in a world of continuous music, love has turned everything into a dizzily colored poem that peaks when Guy is to be sent away to fight in the war in Algeria. Fate takes a big hand in the consequences creating unforseen results. The supporting cast are as good as the principals, with Anne Vernon (Madame Emery) the veteran of many films and Marc Michel (Roland Cassard) coming in having played the same character in Lola, a signature quirk of the director. The music produced two early sixties hits, I Will Wait For You and Watch What Happens. Mr. Legrand's familiarity with the worlds of pop and jazz kept everything fresh-sounding and up to date. You also note subtle touches like the opening jazzy music set in 1957 is very brassy and big band sounding while in the 1963 final scene it's the cool jazz of that time. The colors are so captivatingly brilliant that when establishing shots of the actual Cherbourg are shown it seems like another world.
If you like romances, this is one of the classics. If you are open to musicals you will have no trouble with the fact that the entire film is sung. This is a most memorable and worthy film.