“No, you’re not ugly. You’re not the fairest of them all, but you’re neither ugly nor stupid. You have plenty of time. You think you’re in love, but love is something different. You do not just fall in love with a face in the street.”
‘Les Parapluies de Cherbourg’, directed by Jacques Demy in 1964, is a French musical romance starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo. Deneuve plays Geneviève, a teenager who works in her mother’s umbrella shop, whilst Castelnuovo plays her boyfriend Guy, a mechanic. Guy is drafted into the army to fight in Algeria, but before he goes, he and Geneviève sleep together. Geneviève becomes pregnant whilst Guy is away, but he doesn’t communicate with her, which drives her into the arms of a Parisian jeweller called Roland. Guy returns to the town, discovers that Geneviève is now married, and goes off the rails, only saved when he realises that his mother’s nurse Madeleine loves him. Many years later, he and Madeleine return with their child when he reunites and makes his peace with Geneviève. The obvious thing that stands out about this film is the operatic nature of the music, every line of dialogue is sang, and this, to start with, is distracting. Gradually this style gets under your skin, however, as the music and the character developments play off each other. The second notable thing about Demy’s movie is the pastel colour palette, giving everything including the town of Cherbourg, a fantastical and remote quality that emphasises the feeling of ‘pastness’ and nostalgia in the film. In narrative terms, it is very similar to ‘My Night at Maud’s’, a film directed by Éric Rohmer five years later. Where Rohmer’s film is grounded and chilly however, Demy’s is transcendent and bright. It’s clear to see where the recent ‘La La Land’ has drawn its inspiration, particularly with the two films’ unusually bittersweet conclusion.
Would I recommend it? Yes – coupled with ‘Les Demoiselles de Rochefort’ (I have yet to see the earlier ‘Lola’ – the first film in Demy’s romantic trilogy), it all makes sense. You get the feeling Demy is creating an alternative world with its own rules and with a perpetual background of music and song. I’d watch with ‘My Night at Maud’s’ as a double bill for the contrasting similarities.