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  Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The I'll Die Without You
Year: 1964
Director: Jacques Demy
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Anne Vernon, Marc Michel, Ellen Farner, Jean Champion, Pierre Caden, Jean-Pierre Dorat, Bernard Fradet, Michael Benoist, Philippe Dumat, Dorothée Blanck, Jane Carat, Harald Wolff
Genre: Musical, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Geneviève Emery (Catherine Deneuve) and Guy Foucher (Nino Castelnuovo) are young, French and in love in the town of Cherbourg, and nothing will ever part them - or so they believe. He is a mechanic at a local garage and she helps out in the umbrella shop of her mother (Anne Vernon), and they spend all their free time together, enraptured in each other's company. She has kept this romance a secret from her mother, who as a widow frets that her daughter might be unfulfilled in life the way she has, while he lives with his elderly aunt Elise (Mireille Perrey), who is beginning to feel her age. But their relationship, which seems so strong, is about to be buffeted by the future...

It's no exaggeration to call Les parapluies de Cherbourg something of a sensation when it was released, bridging the gap between the old-time musical and the new concerns of a younger generation who were born after the Second World War and were looking to claim the world for their own. They were wanting to love who they wished with no barriers, they were anti-war as the sixties grew to be mired in conflict, and the older generation just didn't understand, yet for all this hard-edged state of mind they were revelling in, they were not above getting in touch with their emotions and this film was the perfect experience for that, with French sophistication and lovely music.

Said music was courtesy of Michel Legrand, recruited by director Jacques Demy after working with him before and being impressed with his way with sentimental but forceful melodies, well in effect here with a recurring theme that became the basis for a hit record across the globe. What was unusual about this was the dialogue was sung throughout, not unusual for opera, of course, but in the movies audiences seemed to prefer a proper beginning and end to the songs, yet here there were intermingling tunes that would build to crescendos of heartache, which had audiences crying in cinemas everywhere this played. Not everyone responded, and there were snobs who resisted outright.

How could something his blatantly sentimental, schmaltzy even, be considered a classic film, the naysayers would complain dry-eyed from their ivory towers? The majority of the public who attended screenings were having none of this, it appealed to them on a grounding that spoke to their lives far more than anything the intellectuals might try to concoct for their minds: this went straight as an arrow to their hearts. The reason for this was, well, for a start Demy expressly wanted to make the audience cry, therefore he constructed a story that was based in real life as could be related to by anyone who had loved and lost, or was misty-eyed over their first romantic experiences where everything involved in it has either felt like the greatest thing that had ever happened or the complete end of the world.

However, watching this play out on the screen remained artificial as it made no secret the cast were miming to dubbed tracks, the heightened colours were the effect of set design and cinematography, and that those sets, when used, were clearly filmed in a studio. This crafted a curious tension, akin to watching a fairy tale that had elicited solid home truths, so while it was a movie movie it also held resonance that applied to whatever the audience had been through; mix that with Legrand's overwhelming score and for most who gave this a go it would be difficult not to be won over within minutes. Persuading viewers now to try it may be a bigger ask, yet it was a surprisingly easy picture to lose yourself in, other French New Wave efforts comparable in their respect for the medium, but there was little quite like this. It made Deneuve an international celebrity, and contained one of the most bittersweet endings of all, as you cannot say things had not worked out for the better, but the alternative possibility that would not have been as sad was impossible to ignore. They don't even touch!

[This is included on The Criterion Collection's Essential Jacques Demy box set of Blu-rays. Click here to read more. ]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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