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With: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel, Ellen Farner, Mireille Perrey
Written by: Jacques Demy
Directed by: Jacques Demy
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 91
Date: 02/19/1964

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

4 Stars (out of 4)

No Rain, No Gain

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a musical more than anything, though it doesn't follow the specific rules of the genre. It doesn't have any "songs," per se, it's just that when the characters speak to each other in everyday language, they sing. They don't even use rhyming words. (They also sing in French, which probably adds a whole new level to the film for people who speak French.)

In addition, though the movie has a lovely pastel color scheme, and opens with a beautiful overhead shot depicting many different colored umbrellas twirling in the rain, it does not follow the usual musical formula of boy-meets-girl and a happy ending. In fact, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has perhaps the most bittersweet ending of all musicals.

As the film begins, Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) is already in love with a mechanic, Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). Genevieve works with her mother (Anne Vernon) in a little umbrella shop, and the mother disapproves of the mechanic. She'd rather see Genevieve with the wealthy jewel merchant Roland (Marc Michel). Interestingly, Roland comes intact from Demy's previous film Lola and even repeats a shot and a musical cue from that film. Michel Legrand composed the music for both films, as well as Jean-Luc Godard's Band of Outsiders, but Umbrellas remains his greatest achievement.

Unfortunately, Guy gets called off to military service, and soon after he's gone, Genevieve finds that she's pregnant with his child. After Guy refuses to write, Genevieve loses hope and marries Roland. When Guy returns -- injured -- and finds his true love gone, he marries his aunt's beautiful caretaker Madeleine (Ellen Farner). Years later, at Christmas, the young lovers run into each other once again.

It's a strange ending, endlessly sad, yet hopeful. The very last shot after Genevieve's car pulls away, the camera tracks discreetly away, showing Guy joyously scooping up his child in his arms. The movies have trained us in such a way that we believed he was meant to be together with Genevieve, the beautiful dream girl of his youth, married at 18. But in real life we usually marry when it seems sensible. And we can be happy then, too. Demy tries to shock us with this revelation, and he does, but it feels right.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was a success, and was even nominated for a few Oscars here in the U.S. As seen in her first big movie role, Deneuve is ravishingly beautiful, especially when crying. It allows this somewhat icy actress to open up; we can truly see her gorgeous eyes when they're shining with tears. She steals the entire film.

Demy followed it up with the much more vibrant, but also much more conventional musical The Young Girls of Rochefort (1965), starring Deneuve, her sister Francoise Dorleac and Gene Kelly. It's just as good it its own way, but remains in the shadow of its predecessor and is still not very well known. Demy never really had another success on quite the same level, though he made a few more films before his death in 1990. His widow, filmmaker Agnes Varda, has been dedicated to restoring her husband's films and preserving his memory in a series of documentaries -- in addition to making great films of her own, like The Gleaners and I.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is opening in a new print in various places around the country, the new, remastered DVD comes out at about the same time. The disc comes only with an excerpt from Varda's documentary The World of Jacques Demy. An excerpt, mind you, and not the whole thing.

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