“Umbrellas of Cherbourg”: Cinema Rewind

Posted: May 29th, 2020 | Filed under: Cinema, Film Reviews Podcast | No Comments »

There are any number of aspects you might remember, if you viewed Jacques Demy’s iconic confection of a musical, “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” when it arrived in America in the mid 60s.

That you saw it in what we used to call art houses. In my town, that would have been the Crescent Theater, where my first impression when attending a flick there while in high school was they sold coffee in the lobby.

How sophisticated, thought I.

Unless I saw it when off to college in a small Virginia town, where the State Theater showed foreign flicks, then still relatively new to our shores, and the Lyric, more mainstream fare.

Or, you might recall the sumptuous score of Michel Legrand, whose IMDb listing of credits includes an astounding 217 films. You’ve heard the theme song, “I Will Wait For You,” many times through the decades, if only from the Muzak in a department store.

Let’s face it, only Hank Mancini’s “Moon River,” might be more famous and resonant, when it comes to string-laden romanticism in the movie house.

Or, you might recall, and this is probably true for most, how beautiful the stars were.

Nino Castelnuovo as Guy, a mechanic with a love for opera, and his beloved Aunt Elise. And, the obvious, Genevieve. Portrayed by 20 year old Catherine Deneuve, who slayed the heart of every guy I knew, myself included.

Then, there was the quirkiness of this musical.

Like opera, every line is sung. Including some truly banal dialog.

And, I guess I kinda, sorta recalled all that. Plus the interesting, geometrically choreographed shot during the opening credits.

What I’d forgotten, and surely didn’t appreciate as a know nothing youth, is the absolutely riveting production design.

Everything is color coordinated. To a jarring, but effective extent. Wallpaper, wall paint, costumes, street scenes, moods. The fairly recently remastered celluloid pushes those bright, bracing hues front and center.

So, upon reconsideration, I come to praise Bernard Evein, head of production design, and cinematographer Jean Rabier.

They turned Demy’s vision into the full on fantasy he desired. The artifice works. Without it, it would not have.

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is worth a rewatch, if only for the visuals.

Reality rarely intrudes. Genevieve works in her mother’s shop that sells nothing but umbrellas. Guy is a mechanic, whose gasoline smell is cherished by his love. There is but a smidgeon of back story.

Love conquers all, but in a twist of manner.

The film captured the Palm d’Or at Cannes. Of course it did.

In America, it was both revered and reviled.

I found it fascinating, when I viewed it again the other night at Amazon Prime.

— c d kaplan

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