The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Screen 18 articles

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

1964

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Poster
  • Jacques Demy's 1964 "film opera," with music by Michel Legrand, has a reputation for sappiness it doesn't deserve. The chief feature of Demy's direction is his deft avoidance of the pat, the obvious, and the sentimental, which is no mean feat when you're dealing with material as self-consciously simple as this.

  • ...By that time I'd seen enough of everyday French life to realize that Demy was very far from offering a saccharine treatment of it, that he was up to something much more complicated and profound. His poetic exaltation of the ordinary, bursting with emotion, had its share of dark irony as well as respect, and whether or not it was set to music, it was far more rooted in reality than I'd been willing to admit.

  • Demy's revolutionary use of vibrant color is a strong departure from the highly stylized black and white films of the French nouvelle vague. Michel Legrand's compositions are more characteristically fused from jazz and opera than structured from traditional Hollywood musicals. The story has distinct elements of neorealism It is an exhilaratingly beautiful narrative of a contemporary love story.

  • Demy’s ‘nouvelle vague’ masterpiece could be celebrated as a knowingly cross-Atlantic transposition of the best of the Freed-Unit Hollywood musicals, grafted onto a touchingly bitter-sweet Gallic romance: Minnelli and Donen-Kelly harmonizing with the poignant circularity of that most truly ‘musical’ of cine-auteurs, Max Ophüls. But such claims don’t really capture this singular film’s formal design or its ultimately un-romantic sadness.

  • The movie is being revived in a restored print that should erase all painful memories of the inferior prints-mutilated, dubbed or with washed-out color-that have circulated for decades on television. This delicately bittersweet work, told completely through song (albeit lip-synching), was not a great success in America when it was first released in New York in 1964.

  • The wonderful-terrible dervish of Umbrellas reaches peak abandon, worthy of Vincente Minnelli, when Geneviève sobs out a plaint for Guy as a carnival whirls outside the shop. As joyous celebrants and countless streamers smear by her window in all directions, they seem not to mock her sorrow but complement it, on Demy's all-embracing terms: pure exuberance of emotion.

  • Rarely, at least since the end of the silent era, have the movies produced such a stirring, unabashedly sincere display of pure feeling, represented in color, movement and song. Even the most cynical viewer, if he's not careful, may find himself overwhelmed.

  • Like ‘Billy Liar’ – made around the same time – ‘Umbrellas’ makes escapist play with the stuff of kitchen-sink social realism. It’s an approach signalled in the overhead shots of the opening credits, which find pattern and grace in everyday comings and goings, and mirrored by the heightened mise-en-scène: working for the first time in colour, Demy’s supersaturated palette flirts with vulgarity, the wardrobe’s rich hues fabulously coordinated with the decor...

  • The simple story line provides few novel ideas on human love and disappointment, but the film's bombastic melodrama and gorgeous pallet of pastel hues, which provide an ideal back drop for the radiant beauty of a twenty year old Catherine Deneuve, are full of potency.

  • When Roland comes to dine with Genevieve and her mother, the three of them sit at the table, forming a triangle. Roland in black on the left, Genevieve in bright pink on the right, and Madame Emery at the head of the table, between the two of them, black dress and pink gauze shawl. She is black and pink, and while this is entirely pleasing aesthetics-wise as she compliments the attire of the other two, her black-and-pinkness also denotes her role as intermediary...

  • Deneuve, in pastel cardigans and hair ribbons, leaves us sobbing as she says goodbye to her boyfriend, called to fight in Algeria; when they see each other six years later at a snow-blanketed Esso station, the actress, now sporting the intricately engineered bouffant and all-black ensemble of a joyless bourgeoise, destroys us all over again, her character’s youthful exuberance completely supplanted by adult resignation.

  • The film is only a musical at the level of sound – the lines of dialogue become lyrics simply by virtue of being sung to Michel Legrand’s sublime score that shifts between big band brashness and sweeping romanticism. This tension between the fantastical utopia of the musical and the more realistic style of the visuals and dialogue is duplicated in the doomed romance narrative, which sets the idealism of love against the disappointing pragmatism of reality...

  • Beneath the jazzy pop and aching strings of Legrand's orchestrations is laid the brutal essence of the couple's dissolution: War separates them, and economics makes their reunion all but impossible... Through its poignant finale, a virtual snow-globe scene in a nighttime gas station, Demy and Legrand give their unhappy love story a depth that, beneath the tinsel and Technicolor, only comes with a beating, broken heart.

  • Jacques Demy is a cinematic alchemist. Ever present in his body of work is an uncanny ability to transform or combine standard, even banal, elements of various genres into 'gold'--or, rather, something so luminous and rarefied that it can only be Demy who's created it. THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG is arguably the best of his films, and almost certainly the first film of his to so fully bend genre and style convention.

  • It's not just an exceptional musical, it’s a genuine advancement in the genre. With every line of dialogue sung, it’s essentially operatic, but its distinctly cinematic features are what make it a truly great movie... Add Jean Rabier’s Eastmancolor cinematography, which color-coordinates interior spaces, clothing, and seasonal shifts, and the film is simply a spectacular sensory achievement.

  • When I first saw it, newly married but still remembering vividly the pang of adolescent crushes, it played as tragedy: the story of a young love snuffed out by war, fate, and economic hardship. Over the years, seen in the light of Demy’s other films, it has come to seem more properly an exaltation of life’s bittersweet balances and trade-offs—of unexpected triumphs made richer by the dashed hopes that offset them.

  • Could this be the saddest musical of all time? One of the greatest films ever made in any genre, Jacques Demy’s masterpiece tells of a great love that turns out not be a great love at all... Michel Legrand’s occasionally lilting, occasionally thundering music works in tandem with Demy’s alternately intimate, alternately sweeping cinematic style to create a film that is often elusive and unexpectedly complex — and never not breathtaking.

  • This and THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT are noted for their use of color, but the schemes are distinct. In the latter, sunny pastels and bright whites obscure any hint of grimy realism. In THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, which is more operatic in tone and structure, Demy utilizes bolder, more primary colors. This further allows for hints at the film's fateful bitterness. All that glitters is gold in Demy's world, but his is a gold that illuminates the screen while revealing its own artifice.

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