Les Parapluies de Cherbourg


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.

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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.

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10 responses to “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

  1. When I first saw the film in a movie theater in New York in 1964 I didn’t leave at the end but sat through it again. I also bought the two-record soundtrack, complete with libretto, imported from France. Parts of the film are in my head forever.

    • The first time I saw it was on cable tv & I immediately found out the next time that it was airing so that I could watch it again, then joined Netflix to rent the DVD. Netflix doesn’t offer it currently, though.

      I notice something new every time I see the film. But something that I noticed from the screen grabs that I posted — look at the photo of Mme. Emery consoling Genevieve in her bedroom. Look at the photo on the nightstand — it is Deneuve, all grown up with her hair as it is in the last scene! I’d say it was a mistake, except I don’t think Demy made any with the scene setups in this movie.

  2. Great film and one of my ever favorite actresses!!Catherine Deneuve!!!

    • She is so beautiful. And this movie is so charming. I love the scene in the movie where she is wearing the crown — she is so sad, while the others are not.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful film that I’ve missed. Thanks for posting about it, and no, I’ve not heard of a film that can be nom. twice in different years. But, just shows it must be a good one. 😉

    • Oh, Arti! You need to watch this asap. Or at least watch some of the clips on youtube. I really think, based on your movie reviews, that you will be glad that you watched this.

  4. Ahhhh, the umbrellas of Cherbourg. What a classic film. One of the great musicals (in my opinion). Kinda dated now but still really fun to watch.

    • Funny, I didn’t think of it as dated, but more of a period piece, even though it was a contemporary film when made in ’64. Apparently, it was nominated for Academy Awards in both ’64 & ’65. I didnt know that was possible. Now I’m curious to know if this has ever happened before or since. 64 was as best foreign film, 65 for the US release, i think for score and art direction, though I forget which ones.