The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) movie poster

(1964) dir. Jacques Demy
viewed: 08/23/09

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of those films that a lot of people love, and it’s one that I’d long planned to wait to see on the big screen, which wound up putting it out further and further from ever having seen it.  So, finally queueing it and finally seeing it, I can say indeed that I can understand how this film evokes such positive feelings, sad in many ways that the story is, this is a charming, lovely film, beautiful and in some ways, quite timeless.

It had been ages since I’d seen a musical, and I certainly can’t begin to recall when the last two films that I’d seen were both musicals, but it was a happenstance pairing with having watched the marvelous The Music Man (1962), and in some ways helps inform director Jacques Demy’s vision, his lushly colorful love poem ode to the Hollywood musical, but one made with a particular French sensibility, and taking a page perhaps more from opera than the traditional musical.  While this film is a musical, every line of the film is sung and often sung to rhythms and tunes, one would not say that there is necessarily a “song” in the film.  It’s a bit of a deconstruction in that.

That and that the story is a bit of a standardish sort of love story, girl meets boy, girl gets pregnant, boy goes off with the military (to war?), girl ends up marrying someone else…  Well, I won’t give the whole story away, but I use that sketch of the narrative to suggest that there is nothing outstandingly unique in the storyline, but the novelty of the music, the gorgeous set designs and cinematography, the amazingly lovely dresses and costuming, and Catherine Deneuve!  It’s eye candy of a different sort.

Unlike a musical such as The Music Man, there are no set-piece songs, no stagey dance numbers, and no talking in between to set them up.  In many cases, the story could have just as well have been spoken as sung, not requiring rhyme nor meter to pattern to the music.  But this film is charming and lovely, hard to not take a shine to.  And it’s easy to understand why it is well-loved by many.

I’m not so utterly familiar with Jacques Demy beyond the fact that he was married to the also amazing Agnès Varda (Le bonheur (1965), Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)).  Varda did make a film about her late husband, The World of Jacques Demy (1995).  Certainly there is more to see.

I would definitely say that this film is worth seeing on the big screen.  I would be interested still in seeing it that way, but I can certainly say that I enjoyed it.

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