The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Those who are longtime readers of my site know that I'm a sucker for a good movie musical. Sadly, it has been decades since the musical was a vital, viable genre. These days, the occasional forays into song-and-dance outings are treated more as curiosities than as serious revival endeavors (the ascension of MTV probably killed any chance the musical had of making a comeback). 1964's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, from respected director Jacques Demy, was unusual even when musicals were commonplace. It has a kinship not only with the fanciful, visually arresting spectacle of the Hollywood musical, but also with the more traditional solo and choral format of opera/oratorio. There isn't a spoken word in the entire film - every line of dialogue is sung. Of all the musicals I have watched, I can't remember one quite like this. The first time I saw it, when a re-constructed print was being circulated around the country during 1996, I was enraptured. Not only did the film sound great, but it looked splendid. After years of neglect had allowed the visual quality to deteriorate to the point where the movie was brown-and-white, the Technicolor brilliance envisioned by Demy was rejuvenated. Subsequent home video releases have used the reconstructed print as their source material. Watching this movie, preferably projected onto a large screen, is a magical experience - which is precisely what Demy intended when his cameras started rolling four decades ago.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The two main characters of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 17-year old Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) and 20-year old Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), are star-crossed lovers. Despite the stringent objections of Genevieve's mother (Anne Vernon), who thinks a gas station mechanic is beneath her daughter, the two continue their clandestine meetings, and eventually consummate their relationship. Soon after, Guy has to serve a stint away from France in the army. Following his departure, Genevieve learns that she is pregnant, and must decided whether to wait for Guy's uncertain return or marry the rich, cultured Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), who offers stability, undying love, and the promise of raising her child as his own. Genevieve's choice irrevocably alters the lives of at least four people.
As a musical, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is unusual in several ways. First, unlike most big American productions of the time, there are no show-stopping production numbers. There's no dancing, no chorus, and no duets. Secondly, there are no spoken lines of dialogue -- everything, from the mundane to the important, is sung. Finally, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg isn't a lightweight bon-bon with a happily-ever-after ending. While the film has its share of effervescent moments, there's also an element of undeniable poignancy. Agnes Varda's reconstruction has done the film justice. The colors, which include bright pinks, reds, purples, and oranges, look great, and the cleaned-up soundtrack is better than ever. And, although The Umbrellas of Cherbourg lacks song-and-dance numbers, there is one tune that recurs throughout. This song, beautifully composed by Michel Legrand, radiates longing and loss, and forms the movie's core. It, like the film, is far more powerful than one would initially suppose.
Click Here (will exit ReelViews)