More a sensory experience than a movie, this 1964 French film has a simple plot – a middle class girl falls in love with a working class boy, the girl gets pregnant, the boy goes off to war and the girl's mother persuades her to marry a wealthy man.
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The movie is set in the city of Cherbourg on the west coast of France. It is 1957 and seventeen year old Genevieve Emery (played by Catherine Deneuve) lives a middle class existence with her widowed mother (played by Anne Vernon). Genevieve is in love with twenty year old Guy Foucher (played by Nino Castelnuovo) who works as a mechanic in an Esso gas station and lives with his aunt. The two meet and fall in love. But this is 1957 and France not only has a two year mandatory military draft for young men but the country is also locked in a bloody war in Algeria. The two lovers are separated when Guy is drafted and, as he leaves, he promises to write from Algeria. But he doesn't write and Genevieve discovers she is pregnant.
Not hearing from Guy, Genevieve bows to pressure from her mother and marries Roland Cassard (played by Marc Michel), a wealthy jewel merchant who promises to raise her unborn child as his own. Guy returns two years later, slightly crippled from a wound and becomes despondent when he finds Genevieve gone. In the final scene, which takes place on a snowy Christmas Eve in 1963, Guy now owns the Esso station and he and his wife and young son are decorating a Christmas tree in the office. Guy's wife and son leave to take a walk as Genevieve drives in with her young daughter to get some gas. It is her first trip back to Cherbourg since her marriage and the first time she and Guy have met since their parting when he left for Algeria. While the exchange between the two is simple the viewer can't help thinking and feeling the "what could have been" thoughts that are obviously going through the minds of Genevieve and Guy.
What makes this film great is not the plot, which was simple, even trite, forty years ago when the movie was first released. Rather it is the color, the music and the photography. The entire movie is sung in French, but this is not an opera, rather, it is everyday conversation and dialog that is sung rather than spoken. The beauty, for Americans at least, is that French itself is a very poetic language and this makes the sung dialog more a part of the background music than dialog and it is therefore not distracting as you read the English sub-titles. The tune of the theme song, "I Will Wait for You" (which became a popular hit itself in the 1960s and can still be heard on the radio today) plays periodically throughout the movie adding to the feeling.
Then there is the color. Cherbourg itself tends to be cloudy and dreary and this shows in the movie, but the dreariness is offset by the brilliant use of vibrant color for the umbrellas, clothing, wallpaper and even the color of the drinks the two lovers order in the cafe, all of which are strategically coordinated to deliver the strong emotional punch of the film. This was Jacques Demy's first film in color and he used color brilliantly in the film going so far as to use Eastmancolor film which gave the best color for the time but was unstable and resulted in the prints completely deteriorating by the 1980s. However, Demy did make and preserve a spare master which was used to create the new 1996 re-release.
It is the combination of all these elements that make this movie memorable and a classic. The oval Esso sign is long gone, few remember the Algerian War, the military draft is no more and few parents pressure pregnant teenage daughters into marriage. But these details, like the rather simplistic plot, are not what makes this movie memorable. Instead, it is the experience of watching this finely crafted piece of art which transcends time and place while bringing forth timeless human feelings of beauty and love.
The restored film is available on DVD.
The review of this Movie prepared by Chuck Nugent
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) is a movie written and directed by Jacques Demy in 1964. Golden Palm of the 1964 Cannes Film festival and 5 nominations for the Academy Awards.
Geneviève, a 17 years old girl, and Guy want to get married but Guy has to leave France in order to carry out his military service in Algeria. Unmarried and pregnant, Geneviève marries the wealthy Roland Cassard in order to give a father to her child. A few months later, Guy comes back and learns Geneviève's actions. He's consoled by Madeleine and will marry her after a few months. Six years later, Geneviève and Guy meet again by chance but their love has gone.
The review of this Movie prepared by Daniel Staebler