The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) -Jacques Demy

I was a little unsure of what to expect when I settled in for the next big film in DK Canada’s The Movie Book. IMDB describes it as a drama, musical and a romance. All of which I am okay with, I was just wondering how it would translate for an English viewer who would have to read the subtitles for all the lyrics and dialogue.

Imagine my surprise, as I was drawn into The Umbrellas of Cherbourg starring a simply stunning Catherine Deneuve, and was moved by the moments, the music and the sheer romance of this perfect French confection.

Told over a course of a number of years, the story follows two young lovers, Genevieve (Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). She works at the titular shop, while Guy is a mechanic nearby. They are in love, want to be married, and despite the beauty of the pastels and colors around them, it feels like a good percentage of the world is against them. Her mother, Madame Emery (Anne Vernon) frowns on the idea of the relationship between Genevieve and Guy, and wants her to pursue a relationship with the rich, and successful Roland (Marc Michel).

Guy’s life is complicated by his dying aunt (Mireille Perrey) and her caregiver, Madeleine (Ellen Farner).

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Things get worse for the young couple when he is drafted into his two years of mandatory military service which will see a tour in Algiers, and Genevieve is pregnant.

The story spans a number of years as we follow the characters and those around them, and I was completely swept up in it.

I think that is in part that none of the dialogue is actually spoken, it’s all sung, and there’s something about a way that music makes a more emotional connection with you than simple dialogue on its own. As an example there’s a sequence when Guy is leaving on a train, and the pair simply proclaim their love for one another over and over again, as spoken dialogue this would be horrible, woven in as lyrics in a musical motif it works fantastically.

I don’t want to speak about how the story plays out, but it’s beautiful, romantic, undeniably French, and the music fits perfectly.

Deneuve is breathtaking and captivating, Castelnuovo is exceptionally cast as the young man who is forced to be away from the woman he loves, and grows into the man he becomes.

There are no real minor characters, each of them have an equal impact on the story, and it’s simply a lovely film to watch, the colors, the performances, the music by Michel Legrand, and the dialogue by Demy… it all comes together in a heart-swelling film that needs to be experienced.

And thanks to The Movie Book from DK Books, I have… have you?

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