“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” (“Les parapluies de Cherbourg”) (1964), a tenderly told musical romantic drama, was, in its time, a great big immensely popular hit for Jacques Demy, (), who both wrote and directed it. The French director created a singular cinema classic, a burst of color and emotion in which every word of dialog is sung, to an everlastingly beloved score by French composer Michel Legrand. After Demy’s rather early death, the film was restored in 1995 by his widow Agnes Varda, also a French director, (CLEO FROM 5 TO 7). Beautiful Geneviève, 17, (Catherine Deneuve, ) lives and works with her widowed mother, Mme. Emory (Anne Vernon) who owns an umbrella shop in Cherbourg, a rainy coastal port. The young clerk and Guy, (Nino Castelnuovo), a twenty-year-old auto mechanic, who is always scented with gasoline, are in love and want to marry. But when Genevieve tells her mother, the older woman objects on the grounds that her daughter is too young; and Guy, not mature or well-established enough, particularly since he has not yet done his required military service. Shortly afterwards, Guy is indeed drafted for his military service, to be sent to the Algerian war. Before he leaves, he and Geneviève consummate their love; she will become pregnant. While Guy is away they drift apart, and Geneviève, strongly encouraged by her mother, accepts a marriage proposal from well-to-do gem dealer Roland Cassard, Marc Michel (LE TROU). He has fallen in love with her at first sight and has promised to bring up her child as his own. The film opens in rain, and it seems like it always rains in Cherbourg, evidently a good place to sell umbrellas. The ancient northern city has always been an important port, fought over by generations of French, Germans, and English, and somehow, Demy shows us how beat-up it is, even as he gives us its cobblestone streets suffused in bright pastel colors. Even the interiors are exuberantly colored; we see a lot of the green and purple combination made so popular by the waterlilies paintings of the French artist Monet. The young Deneuve, an astonishing beauty, is never less than charmingly dressed, and pregnant as she is supposed to be, may still be the most gorgeous movie bride ever. Mind you, even the umbrella shop, and Guy’s garage are charmingly portrayed, and the quite pretty Mme. Emory, as portrayed by Anne Vernon, could have had no complaints about her wardrobe. I have always particularly loved the Carnival scene, which takes place, of course, in the rain. In this heart-breaking scene, perhaps an homage to the carnival scene in the great French movie, CHILDREN OF PARADISE, Genevieve decides that she must after all marry Roland. It is also noticeable that every character in this movie is lonely. Genevieve and her mother have only each other; her mother is the only person at Genevieve’s wedding to Roland. Roland has only his mother. Guy has only his godmother, with whom he lives; young Madeleine, who looks after her, has no family at all. Only Guy and Madeleine are at the godmother’s funeral. I wonder if this is a reflection of French life? Thousands of words have been written about this movie’s final scenes, which take place in a snowy Cherbourg, in December 1963, shortly after the assassination of American president John F. Kennedy. Guy has his own garage, bought with an inheritance from his godmother, and is evidently happily married, father of a boy Francois; although he does not appear to be that well-off financially, from the numerous clues we are given. Genevieve pulls in – simply for gas?—driving a black Mercedes, with her daughter Francoise. Guy’s wife, after doing the dinner dishes by hand, has walked downtown with their son. Genevieve wears a mink coat – Guy’s wife wears an old cloth coat; Genevieve wears high heeled sandals; Guy’s wife wears matronly footwear suitable for a snowy walk. Genevieve is wearing a lot of makeup, pearl earrings the size of dinner plates, and very elaborately done hair. Guy’s wife isn’t. But is Genevieve happy? She doesn’t appear to be. Did she, who’s never been alone, really send her daughter, after the autumn death of her mother, Mme. Emory, to her mother-in-law’s in Anjou? And, after picking up her daughter, did she really drive in the snow, from Anjou to Cherbourg, a five hour detour from the Paris road, as roads then were, simply on a whim? No matter, Guy refuses to see his daughter and sends Genevieve on her way. The camera leaves Genevieve, Deneuve, cold and beautiful, aloof and mysterious, as she always was and has been. Critics have always said that her lively real-life sister Francoise Dorleac, who died tragically young, at the wheel of a sports car on the Riviera, was the only person who could warm Deneuve’s affect. But we here see Genevieve, Deneuve, accustomed to the uses of money, as she has become, and as we have long grown accustomed to seeing her. Seems to me, neither Genevieve nor Deneuve were born to be lost in love and marriage. She’s simply too beautiful, and must exist in the public sphere, as Deneuve has. Her image has been used in chic advertising for decades. And it was used to represent Marianne, the national symbol of France, for many years, on view in every city, town, and village hall. She’s had children by two lovers, famous French film director Roger Vadim, and famous Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni; has been married once, but has since said, “marriage is obsolete and a trap.” Ah well, the plot of UMBRELLAS surely has its soap opera elements. And I like to think of myself as a sophisticate, but I love it.
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