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Pasternack on the Past: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg


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By Jesse Pasternack



“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” a 1964 French film, is one of the most innovative and beloved musicals ever made. Damien Chazelle has cited it as a primary influence on his hit musical “La La Land.”

It is the kind of film that will make you fall in love, only to break your heart.

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” tells the story of young lovers Guy and Geneviève. They become separated when Guy is drafted into the army. Geneviève vows to wait for him, but life gets in the way of their plans.

This movie tells a simple story in a very stylized manner. The sets are painted in vibrant colors.

Many of the shots use elaborate camera movements. These elements combine to give an extraordinary quality to the lives of its ordinary characters.

The musicality of the movie is also extremely stylized. Most stage and movie musicals feature characters singing and dancing before they return to reciting regular dialogue. But the characters in “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” sing all of their lines.

The constant singing heightens every emotion and creates greater sympathy for Guy and Geneviève.

The fact that Guy and Geneviève wear their hearts not on their sleeves, but on their voices makes them 
endearingly vulnerable.

Michel Legrand composed the film’s music, which makes use of jazz and orchestral music that is achingly sad. The score contains melodies that will never truly leave you.

Catherine Deneuve shines in her breakout role as Geneviève. Nino Castelnuovo is endearing as Guy. Even characters with few lines make a charming impression.

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” has left a mark in film, as with “La La Land.” Both musicals about the sadness of what could have been.

The color scheme even appears to mimic that of “Umbrellas”- the shade of red used to paint a room near the end of “La La Land” matches that of the bar in the 1964 film.

“Umbrellas” director Jacques Demy used bright reds, blues and pinks to make the film more unforgettable. He even makes excellent use of the color white to connote sadness.

“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is a lot like a favorite song. It knocks you out the first time that you hear it. Then it becomes more meaningful to you the more times you experience it. This is the type of film that is destined to become a fond memory.

Jesse Pasternack

jpastern@indiana.edu

@jessepasternack

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