Movie Review – “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964)

Here’s something you don’t see everyday – A French melodrama with every line of dialogue in song. I give “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” points for being creative and one-of-a-kind, since this is something you never see outside of some plays.

When I say every line of dialogue is in song, I mean every single word. From casual conversations on the street between strangers to deep life-changing conversations on who people should marrying.

The film follows Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve), a young girl who lives with her mother in their umbrella store in Cherbourg, as she falls in love with a slightly older man Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) even though her mother forbids her from seeing him. Genevieve only seems happy when she’s with Guy but that quickly turns when he gets drafted and will be away for the next two years. Afraid of being left alone, she must decide to wait for him or marry a wealthy jewel salesman.

 

The story starts out simple enough and turns tragic as it progresses, which makes the operatic music scenes feel far more grandiose. While I can’t appreciate the French music offered in this film due to my lack of music knowledge and hardly ever hearing French music before film, I did feel the film benefitted from being done in song.

Without the music, this would have been a run-of-the-mill drama about choosing love and loneliness or happiness and wealth. But Deneuve’s performance is enhanced by her singing as her decisions carry more weight when she’s pouring her emotions out in song.

Imagine if “The Graduate” was entirely a musical, and you get a pretty good idea what this film is about.

I respect “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” more than I enjoyed it. I won’t remember some of the finer points of the plot or even entire characters, like Guy’s aunt, but I will never forget the film that was a musical from start to finish.

Final Grade: B-

 

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