|Catherine Deneuve plays a winsome 17 in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), directed by Jacques Demy|
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)
d. Jacques Demy
Criterion Collection #716
The Essential Jacques Demy
Criterion Collection #713
Criterion Collection released The Essential Jacques Demy boxed set last July. Many, if not all of those films are now up on the Criterion Collection Hulu channel. One thing I've noticed about the Criterion Collection Hulu channel is that it doesn't get new movies all that often, so when it happens, it is distinctly a cause for celebration. Jacques Demy is terra incognita for me. I have a vague memory of a revival of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg garnering limiting publicity when I was in college.
"Delightful" is the word that you most often see used to described The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. All of the dialogue is "sung" in the sing songy way that most Americans associate with the work of Steven Sondheim ("Anyone can sing in a Sondheim play you just have to goooo like thiiiissss.") The story is a conventional drama about a virginal young woman (Denueve in her breakthrough role), living with her Mom, who runs an Umbrella shop in a town which is not Paris, but in France. Dad is not around, but my guess would be he is dead
Denueve falls in love with a handsome mechanic, and he is promptly shipped off to fight in Algeria, leaving Deneuve pregnant and alone. Enter a wealthy jewelry merchant, who is willing to take on Denueve, other man's baby and all. Mechanic returns from the war, is sad, and finds love with another. Other than the sung lyrics, the visual, Technicolor style of Demy is what give The Umbrellas of Cherbourg its lasting appeal. The mise en scene is nothing so much as a visual feast, and if you aren't staring at Deneuve, you are staring at whatever is behind her.