Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, directed by Jacques Demy, is a dramatic romance as well as a musical, made in 1964 and set in the late 50s. As a film, it is divided into three acts - The Departure, The Absence and The Return.
It tells the story of Geneviève Emery (Catherine Deneuve), who works for her mother (Anne Vernon) at their little store, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg [The Umbrellas of Cherbourg]. She is only sixteen when the film starts, but madly in love with Guy Foucher (Nino Castelnuovo). They plan to marry. Unfortunately, Guy is drafted into civil service for two years and Geneviève soon learns, after he is gone, that she is pregnant. But not to worry, too much, at least, as well-off Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) has fallen in love with her, and does not even mind that she is pregnant. They go to live in Paris, with their little girl Françoise, and it all ends happily.
Ahh, if only it were that simple.
Guy comes back to Cherbourg, you see, and is heartbroken. His aunt Élise (Mireille Perrey), the woman who brought him up, dies. Even his faithful friend Madeleine (Ellen Farner), who has been looking after Élise in Guy's absence, does not like what he's become. He regains and then quits his job at the garage. He is surly, rude and apathetic. Madeleine stays with him, however, and in fact, eventually agrees to marry him. They build a life together. They even have a boy, François.
Of course, the story could not be complete until Geneviève and Guy meet again.
I have to admit, I was quite teary at the end. The story is bittersweet to say the very least. You cannot dislike Roland, who is honest, caring and clever. However, you cannot dislike Guy either. It is Guy who should really have a life with Geneviève, and yet, that is not to be. It is difficult to form conscious allegiances when you feel for all involved.
There's no spoken dialogue in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, every line is sung, and whilst this can occasionally be a bit annoying, I admire the courage it took. The voices are all pleasant, even if sometimes the notes they sing seem slightly discordant. The famous song from the film is known in English as "I Will Wait For You". The English lyrics certainly put more emphasis on waiting than the French ones do. In French the song is mostly "don't leave me, don't leave me, I love you, I love you," whereas in English it becomes "If it takes forever, I will wait for you, for a thousand summers, I will wait for you." This surprised me quite a lot, as I was really expecting the English version to actually be a translation of the French lyrics. The music, composed by Michel Legrand, is mostly jazz inspired and extremely beautiful.
The colouring of the sets is extraordinarily bright - with strong colours bursting off the screen. Purples, oranges, greens, blues and pinks, they combine to enliven the senses. The costumes are similarly bright, as well as being 'trés chic' and 'trés belle'. They evoke a feeling of fantasy, of surreality, even though the film is generally grounded in the real world.
The camera work is very adventurous, with some great tracking shots, the initial crane shot and one memorable scene where the camera spins as Roland sings about a desolate love affair in which he had an unrequited love. There's some very interesting framing which highlights as it obscures. It is a curious blend of the modern and the dated.
I really liked this film. I can tell why it is a classic and suggested by many film buffs.
As for random notes;
- Roland (Marc Michel) was really quite handsome, with the most amazing light blue/grey eyes.
- Then again, so was Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), but in a very different way.
- Let's face it, everyone was gorgeous to behold - even Aunt Élise.
- Catherine Deneuve did not look 16, in fact she didn't even look the 20 she was at the time (it must have been the make-up) but she really did look like Anne Vernon's daughter. Their similarity was striking.
- I feel awful for saying this, I do, but Madeleine (Ellen Farner), really reminded me of Mark McKinney as Sylvie in the Kids in the Hall scene at Hotel La Rut ("Wondering where he could be, who he is with, what is he thinking, is he thinking of me, and whether he'll ever return someday."). It was her expressions more than anything. He does the exact same vacant stare as he is speaking, as she does whenever she is in the film. In fact, I have half a mind the skit could have been based on the film in some way, shape or form. Because, clearly, I'm on crack.
- I do wish there had been more individual 'songs' that you could take out of the film and appreciate alone. As it is, I thought only "I Will Wait For You" and the song Roland sings when he is talking of his previous lost love can come close to this sort of treatment.
- Speaking of 'songs', I actually find "I Will Wait For You" a lot sadder in the Futurama episode "Jurrasic Bark" than I did in this film. For instance, I cry everytime I see that episode (and therefore haven't seen it for over a year), but I did not cry at that juncture of the film at all.