The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – Demy’s immensely loved, breezily crafted and exquisitely staged cine-opera – can as much be enjoyed as a celebration of the Hollywood musical as it can be admired for its understated deconstruction of a genre that is at times too frothy or kitschy or escapist to be taken seriously. The latter aspect was especially interesting in how he merged the buoyancy and charm of this genre with everyday life with all its hopes and regrets, ordinary people compromising teenage dreams with muted reality of adulthood, and evocation of working-class neighbourhoods. And the way it delicately balanced the supposed artifice – albeit one where, in an unconventional formal choice, every spoken line is sung, as opposed to actors breaking into song-and-dance – with such socialist realist topics as teenage pregnancy, prostitution, and post-war disillusionment, laced this with an enchanting interplay between style, themes and tones. Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve), the stunningly beautiful girl whose practical single mom (Ellen Farner) runs a struggling umbrella boutique, is in love with Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), who works as an auto mechanic. He, however, gets drafted in the Algerian War, and his absence, along with her pregnancy and their economic woes, slowly pushes her towards Roland (Marc Michel), a wealthy, melancholic jeweler who’s fallen for her. Interestingly, Demy steadfastly centered the narrative in the titular port-town – except for a marvelous in-film reference when Roland reminisces about his lost love in Lola – so much so that characters even fall off the narrative upon moving to somewhere else. Michel Legrand’s melodious score, and gorgeous art designs that gradually transitioned from vibrant pastel shades to washed-out grays, accompanied the protagonists’ mournful coming-of-age that was sealed in the bittersweet coda.
Director: Jacques Demy
Genre: Musical/Romantic Drama