The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is Jacques Demy’s experimental film about love and loss. It is a visually stunning musical tale told in three acts: Departure, Absence, and Return. Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) is the daughter of an umbrella shop owner who falls in love with Guy (Nuno Castelnuovo), a garage mechanic. Despite her mother’s (Anne Vernon) objections, they decide to marry. However, their plans are disrupted when Guy is drafted to Algeria. In a poignant cafe scene, the young lovers decide to postpone their marriage until after his tour of duty (the haunting score of I Will Wait for You). But Guy’s absence soon proves unbearable for the young, confused Genevieve, and begins to doubt his love: “Why is Guy fading away from me?”. Demy’s revolutionary use of vibrant color is a strong departure from the highly stylized black and white films of the French nouvelle vague. Michel Legrand’s compositions are more characteristically fused from jazz and opera than structured from traditional Hollywood musicals. The story has distinct elements of neorealism It is an exhilaratingly beautiful narrative of a contemporary love story.
Demy uses incongruities in the film to illustrate the complex aspects of love itself. Costumes that complement the scenery in one room clash in a different setting. The tale of lost love is sung with the light-heartedness of a tender serenade. Similar to the effect achieved in Rene Clement’s Purple Noon, there is a sense of imbalance: an idea that no love is ever perfect – that life chooses the circumstances under which we learn to love. It is a bittersweet realization for two young lovers who inevitably grew up… and grew apart.
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