Umrellas of Cherbourg, The (France, 1964) ****
Written and directed by Jacques Demy. Photography, Jean Rabier. Music, Michel Legrand. Producer, Mag Bodard. Distributor, Zeitgeist. Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, et al. In French with subtitles. ca. 90 minutes. Not rated.
Shown in date in film history. It is the first film ever where the entire dialogue is sung. This is not a musical, since that well-represented (and overwhelmingly American) genre uses “normal” talk until you sense that a song is coming.
Restored in beautiful colors in 1992 and currently shown in new prints, the movie won the top prize at the 1964 Cannes Festival plus, internationally, many other major awards.
It also launched to great heights its main performer Catherine Deneuve, then 20, about 17 in the character she plays, and now 60-ish. As Shakespeare said of his Cleopatra : “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety” Among French stars I can only think of Danielle Darrieux’s astounding longevity and looks.
Since I am a firm believer that plots –not just for thrillers or mysteries-- should be revealed, I can only generalize. The location is Cherbourg ( in the Cotentin Peninsula)
Which many an American G.I. remembers from the D-Day Allied invasion in 1944.
In the movie, Deneuve lives with her widowed mother, and owner of an umbrellas shop.
She and a young car mechanic fall in love. He gets called to military service. Then things happen.
The film is out and out romantic, beautiful to look at and to listen to. (The singers are dubbed professionals.) Michel Legrand, the composer, towers over most other song (and movie score) writers, often performs (instruments, voice) his creations, sometimes pops up in films, and has written the music of almost 200 films, including many fine American ones. “I will wait for you,” his major tune for “Umbrellas” has been warbled, whistled, hummed and played by millions of French people.
Jacques Demy (1931-1990) was a writer-director who enchanted audiences with his romantic movies, often based on old, familiar fairy-tales. He collaborated with composer Legrand in ten films, and co-directed his other singing movie, “The Young Ladies of Rochefort” (1967) with his wife Agnes Varda, who is rated as one of the best filmmakers of our times and the best she-director. Varda, pragmatic and non-sentimental, after her husband’s death, made a splendid, loving, “biographical” film about him as a boy who loved above all music and movies.