Jacques Demy’s Lyrical Masterpiece, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Romance and real­ism are mixed togeth­er in sur­pris­ing and unfor­get­table ways in Jacques Demy’s 1964 mas­ter­piece, The Umbrel­las of Cher­bourg. At first glance the film appears to be anoth­er piece of escapist fluff—a bright­ly col­ored musi­cal about a beau­ti­ful girl who falls in love with a hand­some young man. But as the sto­ry unfolds, those fairy tale trappings—the col­ors, the melodies, the impos­si­bly beau­ti­ful faces—carry a gath­er­ing weight of irony.

As film crit­ic A.O. Scott of the New York Times says in the video above, the film is one of the most roman­tic ever made, yet at the same time the sto­ry is “pure kitchen sink real­ism, suit­able maybe for a Ray­mond Carv­er sto­ry or a Bruce Spring­steen song.” It fea­tures Cather­ine Deneuve as a 17-year-old girl who works in her mother’s umbrel­la shop and falls in love with a 20-year-old garage mechan­ic, played by Nino Castel­n­uo­vo. “All of the char­ac­ters face very dif­fi­cult, very real prob­lems,” says Scott, “and all of them try to do the right thing, which turns out to be pret­ty defin­i­tive­ly unro­man­tic.”

Unlike Hol­ly­wood musi­cals, in which the char­ac­ters speak dia­logue and peri­od­i­cal­ly break into song, every word in The Umbrel­las of Cher­bourg is sung. The film received the Palme d’Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, and was an inter­na­tion­al hit. Despite all the suc­cess, the film has been wide­ly mis­un­der­stood, as Pauline Kael lament­ed dur­ing a 2000 inter­view. “One of the sad things about our time, I think,” Kael said, “is that so many peo­ple find a movie like that friv­o­lous and neg­li­gi­ble. They don’t see the beau­ty in it, but it’s a love­ly film—original and fine.”

The Umbrel­las of Cher­bourg has recent­ly become avail­able for free view­ing on the Inter­net, and we have added it to our archive of free movies. You can watch it here.

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