Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is one of the most beautiful movies ever made with an enchanting and haunting score by Michel Le Grande, and totally focused, sharp and creative direction by Jacques Demy. Catherine Deneuve gives a fine performance in pinkish white makeup with her blonde hair pulled away from her famous face, at twenty playing a seventeen-year-old shopkeeper's daughter who falls in love with a garage mechanic. He is called away to the war in Algeria after making her pregnant. Will she wait for him as the award-winning song proclaims? Will their love endure the long separation?
All the dialogue is sung. The script is terse with nothing extraneous to the bittersweet story. Because the dialogue is stripped to the barest essentials, the singing seems natural and enhances the dream-like quality established early with the rain falling on the umbrellas and the cobblestone streets of the seacoast town. The sets are splashed in vivid color. Everything is superficially romantic, but the events are the starkest realism.
When a young girl if forced to choose between love and security, which does she choose? It depends on the circumstances, and sometimes circumstances and the passage of time can change her heart.
I was a teenager in France when this was made in the sixties. The backdrops of the white Esso gas station, the red and yellow passenger train cars, the bouffant hair styles on the girls, their eyes heavily made up with mascara and black eyeliner, the ubiquitous bicycles and the little French "cigarette roller" cars all brought back vivid memories of youth as did the musical score.
A question: what ever happened to the "other" girl, Ellen Farner who played Madeleine? To be honest I found her more attractive than Deneuve who of course went on to become a great star and an acclaimed international beauty.
Farner was never heard from again.
Some scenes made more effective by their simplicity: When Genevière (Deneuve) returns home after a late evening with Guy, her mother (Anne Vernon) surveys her daughter and exclaims, "What have you done?" Genevière retorts sharply, "Mama!" and it is clear what she has done. Also, as Guy is going off to the army Madeleine arrives upon the scene as he is saying good-bye to his stepmother who is ill. They exchange glances that reveal Madeleine's love for him. And then she sings out softly in the heartfelt regret of parting, "Adieu, Guy." We know these are not the last words that will pass between them. Additionally, the brief, beautifully structured, final scene at the shiny new Esso gas station is not to be forgotten.
The scenes with Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), the suave, traveling man of means who sells Madame Emery's jewelry so she can pay the taxes on her umbrella shop, are nicely staged so that we can see at a glance that he is enormously taken with Genevière and that the mother will do everything possible to further his case. It is agreeable for those identifying with Genevière that Roland is not only well off financially, but is as handsome as the garage mechanic. But will he still want her when he learns that she is pregnant with another man's child?
Jacques Demy who also wrote the script is to be commended for the effortless pace and tight focus of this romantic tale of star crossed lovers. I wish every director had such an ability to cut the extraneous and concentrate on the essentials without intrusion. The tale is an atmospheric tour de force of love lost and gained, of bourgeois values triumphant.
This might be a bit precious for some, but upon seeing this for the third time, I can tell you I was enchanted anew.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)