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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les parapluies de Cherbourg) (1964) (In French with English sub-titles.)
Stars: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo
Writer & Director: Jacques Demy
Music: Michel Legrand
Awards: Golden Palm (Cannes)
Ladies, Gentlemen, and fellow Wormites, this is my favorite movie of all time. And I cry every time I watch it, to the point of serious dehydration. So what is it about this film that turns me into an emotional train wreck?
The story is as simple as a love story can be. Seventeen-year-old Geneviève (Deneuve was twenty at the time of filming) and Guy (Castelnuovo), a handsome auto mechanic, fall in love. Hard. And without any cutesy Hollywood comedy lines to distract from or impinge upon their love.
Geneviève works in her mother’s umbrella shop, where they live in the back rooms. Guy lives with his dying aunt, who has a daytime caregiver, Madeleine. For a few hours each evening, though, Geneviève and Guy stroll through the streets of Cherbourg or sit in a café holding hands.
But in matters of love, no matter how deep they may be, some tragedy must fall. Guy receives his draft papers: he is to serve in the war in Algeria for two years. The lovers are bereft, to the point where Guy takes Geneviève to his bed. The going away scene is an emotional killer, and Michel Legrand hits us with his signature theme, “I Will Wait for You”, making it even worse.
Don’t believe me? This is an 87-minute film, but there is an intermission following this scene so the audience can have a good cry-a-thon before the second half begins. (I saw it in three different theatres, so I know.)
I hesitate to tell much more of the story, other than life has a tendency to change.
This film is a small masterpiece thanks to Demy’s writing and directing. He uses color everywhere, giving Geneviève’s and Guy’s love a magical quality, a visual metaphor of what they see in each other. It’s in French, the language of love, and every time I hear Catherine Deneuve sing Je t'aime I get goose bumps.
Did I say sing? Yes, I did. The entire movie is sung, not spoken, to Michel Legrand’s wonderful score (he was nominated for an Oscar, but The Sound of Music beat him to death). Like The Phantom of the Opera, this is faux opera. It takes a little getting used to, but not much. And for the record, Deneuve does her own singing.
So what is it about this film that turns me into an emotional train wreck? I am a die-hard Romantic, capital R, and I truly believe that a good and pure love is possible.
[The film has recently been restored, including Dolby stereo, so the DVD is available.]