Friday, March 12, 2010

Small Films 2: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

A year ago, in March 2009, I started a new regular feature I called “Small Films: Those that Passed Under the Radar.” I must be pretty regular, then, because it’s March again and here's #2 in the series.(#1 was A Little Romance).

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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

Genre: Drama/Romance

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.]


savannah said...

*sigh* 1964, i was 14. i just added this to my netflix queue, sugar! thank you. xoxox

(btw, come over and have a laugh!)

Robert the Skeptic said...

I added it to my Netflix queue. Thanks for the review, I definitely want to see it.

TechnoBabe said...

Good for you to believe in true love. I have always liked Catherine Deneuve.

Tiffin said...

Ok, you have to email me to tell me how it ends. Did they end up together? Don't leave me hanging, Charlie, puleese! I actually saw this one and can't remember.

Tiffin said...

It's ok, Charlie...I think I remember how it ends now.

Pat said...

I saw this film during my long separation from MTL and I would be brave and not let it get to me but when I heard the song 'If it takes forever I will wait for you.'I was undone and it still makes me teary.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have never heard of this film! But I am always in favour of championing the small beautiful films, so thanks for this. I could use a good cry.

Kevin Musgrove said...

A good choice. It doesn't do it for me but it is very well done.

Jimmy Bastard said...

You had me at "Wormites"

Mary Witzl said...

I've seen this! I can still sing the theme song, which we learned in French class. Though oddly, we learned the words in English.

Today, I sing that song to my daughters when they're in the bathroom. It doesn't get them out any quicker, but it makes me feel better.