Review – THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (“Les parapluies de Cherbourg,” Jacques Demy, 1964, France / West Germany)


LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG || 1964, France / West Germany || Musical || Directed by – Jacques Demy / Written by – Jacques Demy / Produced by – Mag Bodard, Gilbert de Goldschmidt, Pierre Lazareff / Music by – Michel Legrand / Cinematography by – Jean Rabier / Editing by – Anne-Marie Cotret, Monique Teisseire / Production design – Bernard Evein / Starring – Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel / Running time: 91 mins.


“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg)” by Jacques Demy (1964, France / West Germany)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is arguably the most successful and representational work of Jacques Demy. Not a spoken word of dialogue is in the film, as it is all sung much like an operetta, and it tells the harrowing tale of young French lovers in the fifties separated by the war, which progressively sees their destinies separated. The story is intricately melodramatic, full of heart breaking moments as well as joyous romanticism.

It is a cohesive vision which nevertheless, unlike many other musical dramas of the time, doesn’t emphasise any glamorous sides. Indeed, for all its melodramatic aspects, it is also respectful of the ordinary world in which the film takes place, mostly among the working class, and even touches on many delicate subjects, some of which are particularly daring, such as the young man being drafted for war or unplanned pregnancies.

All this is driven by an excellent musical score by Michel Legrand, who is every bit as responsible for the magic of the film as Demy himself, who in turn pays tribute to the score with his excellent imprint of coordination in each of the individual sequences, whilst maintaining a coating of realism with which he is able to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg also stars a young and beautiful Catherine Denevue, and her performance adds further depth and humanity to her character. But the whole cast is equally in top form, able to maintain an air of dignity in the underrated difficult task of acting by singing without truly ever going over the top. – 5/5


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