When I was in 4th and 5th year French in high school, I remember that we read lots of things about French culture. We had to write term papers on a French artist. We read several works of the existentialists. We studied architecture. But I don’t recall ever seeing a French film. As I watched Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) today — for what must be the 10th time — I wondered why we never would have seen this. Perhaps it wasn’t readily available. Perhaps, even in the late 70s when Grease had an R rating, Umbrellas, though it has no sex in it, was too risqué because the young Catherine Deneuve is pregnant and unmarried. What a lost opportunity! I’m sure that I would have worn out a few VHS tapes of this movie had I been aware of it and had it been available.
But, Umbrellas was almost lost to the world because of serious fading on the original prints. Jacques Demy had saved a copy of his masterpiece and had planned, shortly before he died, to restore the original. His widow saw that the project was completed and Umbrellas, originally released in 1964, was re-released in 1995.
A brief description of the movie may seem off-putting. It sounds sentimental, maybe even melodramatic: a young girl falls in love for the first time, her love is sent off to war in Algeria, her mother is facing bankruptcy, she finds herself pregnant, but with a potential husband her mother has selected. Especially to today’s viewer, it may seem odd, maybe inaccessible, because the entire script is sung.
But, if that would dissuade you, you will miss seeing a wonderful movie. The movie is available with English subtitles, but I think that even if you spoke no French, the subtitles would be an extra. It is clear from the action and emotion what is happening. If you didn’t understand the action, the film is so beautiful, the Michel Legrand music so wonderful, that it is worth the 90 minute viewing even if you didn’t understand a word.
I am amazed by the colors in this film. Every bit of scenery and wardrobe seems to be coordinated. The film, though not a happy story, has a cheery appearance, from the umbrellas that decorate Mme. Emery’s shop, to the bows that seem to match the pink complexion of Catherine Deneuve’s character Geneviève, to the wallpaper throughout their home. Every shot is gorgeous and too pretty to be real. This is juxtaposed against the gritty reality of the lives of the characters and the choices that they must make.
Take a look at a few screen grabs from the film. If you have a chance to see this movie, do so. If you’ve seen it before, treat yourself to another viewing.
Here is a link to a review of the film by Roger Ebert.
This post is part of the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Today’s letter is U. Thanks for stopping by. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. You can find other A to Z participants by clicking on the graphic. You’ll find an index of all of my A to Z blog posts here.