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Desson Howe - Weekend section, "An operatic masterpiece of romanticism."

Hal Hinson - Style section,
"A glorious romantic confection unlike any other in movie history."



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'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg'

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A provincial girl (Catherine Deneuve) falls madly in love with Guy, a handsome garage mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo). Despite opposition from the girl's conservative mother (Anne Vernon), they make plans to marry, have kids and immerse themselves in the flood of teenage emotion that comes with falling in love for the very first time. -- Desson Howe
Not Rated


Director: Jacques Demy
Cast: Catherine Deneuve; Nino Castelnuovo; Anne Vernon; Marc Michel; Ellen Farner
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes







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Sunny 'Umbrella'


By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 31, 1996


"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is a glorious return to innocence, a burst of tuneful sunshine that warms you delicately between the toes. In Jacques Demy's musical, which won the Grand Prize and Best Actress awards at Cannes in 1964, there are no talking breaks between songs. The characters sing to each other for the entire movie. People don't chat, they chant.

But "Umbrellas" never feels constricting or clumsy, thanks to Michel Legrand's lilting, dynamic score, the movie's vivid colors and an unforgettable love story. Once you settle into its special rhythms, it feels as normal as breathing. This adult fairy tale is as delicate and vibrant as its star, the young Catherine Deneuve.

Deneuve plays Genevieve, the daughter of an umbrella store proprietor, who falls in love with Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), a gas station attendant who lives with his aunt. Their relationship is interrupted by Guy's military conscription. Just before he leaves for Algeria, Genevieve sleeps with him and gets pregnant. When Guy fails to write, however, Genevieve falls into despair. Pressured by her mother (Anne Vernon), she eventually agrees to marry an affable diamond merchant named Roland (Marc Michel), who adopts the baby.

When Guy returns to find his lover has married, he proposes to Madeleine (Ellen Farner), who has been secretly in love with him for years. Now married to devoted partners, Genevieve and Guy are kept from each other until a chance reunion brings them face to face in the snows of Christmas.

Demy, his cinematographer Jean Rabier and production designer Bernard Evein created an operatic masterpiece of romanticism, which makes a modest but effective antidote to the harsh era of cynicism that has pervaded world cinema ever since. Luckily for later generations, the late Demy preserved a series of "Umbrellas" negatives that could re-create the three-color process of the time. This 1992 print, struck by filmmaker Agnes Varda (Demy's widow), composer Legrand and the French Ministry of Culture, allows us to experience the same, vivid hues that enchanted 1964 audiences. Watch this restored version and you'll be enchanted too.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (Unrated) Contains sexual situations. In French with subtitles.

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'Cherbourg' : A Matchless Love Story

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 31, 1996


Jacques Demy's 1964 classic "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is a glorious romantic confection unlike any other in movie history. Released just after the initial burst of creativity from the French New Wave, this ebullient modern fairy tale was warmly received, but because it didn't quite fit into that new movement it quickly vanished from sight, popping up occasionally in bad reproductions at revival houses.

Now, thanks to a ravishing new print struck from Demy's own negative, it is possible to see this one-of-a-kind film as Demy intended, and the experience is a revelation. The story is simple: A provincial girl, played by an impossibly beautiful 20-year-old Catherine Deneuve, falls madly in love with Guy, a handsome garage mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo). Despite opposition from the girl's conservative mother (Anne Vernon), they make plans to marry, have kids and immerse themselves in the flood of teenage emotion that comes with falling in love for the very first time.

Somehow, Demy seems to have constructed the entire film out of these youthful emotions. It is conceived as a sort of teen pop opera, and all of the dialogue is sung, not spoken, elevating the courtship to the realm of the poetic. In essence they live not in the real world, but in the world of the lavish Hollywood musicals Demy loved. And within this context, it seems perfectly natural for the characters to sing out their feelings. Function and form are perfectly matched. The images here are so dazzlingly clear and crisp that they seem to jump off the screen. The ardor of the characters is reflected in the riotous brilliance of the colors, in the fluid rush of the camera and in the swelling exuberance of Michel Legrand's lush orchestrations.

Perhaps more so now than when the movie first came out, Deneuve seems like a pure distillation of youth and beauty. Though her lip-synced singing voice is light, it's remarkably expressive. (Its thinness is humanizing, tender.) She and Castelnuovo make a perfect couple, and as the picture builds to its climax, our investment in their happiness is substantial.

But "Umbrellas" doesn't merely pay homage to the romantic exuberance of the Hollywood musical. It is also a critique. Once Guy is sent to fight in Algiers, the story takes a realistic turn, but stylistically, the film stays in the same groove. The tension Demy sets up between the ideal fantasy of romance and the harsher truths of the real world-between movie love and real love-is the heart of the movie. Characteristically, Demy refuses to see this discrepancy as a cause for despair. The abyss between movies and the real world may evoke sadness, but a sadness so rich that it carries its own fulfillment.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in French with subtitles, is not rated.


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