An Appreciation – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
There is an important scene near the end, when Madeleine questions whether Guy truly loves her or if he married her as a replacement for Geneviève. He obviously says he wants to be with her and no longer wants to think about Geneviève, but I’m not so sure. For a love that seemed to strong at the beginning of the movie, I find it difficult to believe that Geneviève is no longer in Guy’s mind. On the flip side, it’s also hard to believe that Geneviève has completely forgotten about Guy as well, even though she seems happily married and enjoys being a part of the wealthy class. In the final scene, where the two run in to each other at Guy’s shop, there is an enormous amount of conflicting feelings, even when the two barely say what they are truly thinking. We find ourselves saddened that their romance has ended with them finding other people, but somehow this feels like the correct and appropriate end to their story. Their time has passed; whatever joy they once shared will forever be felt in memory. If Demy were to end the film with them returning to each other, it would have felt false, even though that may have been the conclusion we were hoping for. And that’s what makes the ending so good, because of the differing thoughts that we have for them. We know that they still think about each other, but we realize that they ended up just as they should have given the context of the film.
One element that stands out is the look of the movie. The film was shot by cinematographer Jean Rabier, and he gave the film a bold, flashy, colorful style. There is almost a kind of hyper-reality with the way the film is presented, almost like it was bordering on a comic book-like effect. Splashes of color run rampant throughout, in the look of Genevieve’s clothing, to the distinct pinkness of the umbrella shop, the whiteness of the snow at the end, to even the bright colors of the streets and alleyways of Cherbourg itself. The opening titles of the movie are set against a shot looking directly down on a street, with pedestrians walking past under a variety of colorful umbrellas. For me, the bold, bright colors give the film life and liveliness. Demy made the film much as an homage to the big musical productions of Hollywood, and it works well with the overall feel. This is not a world that is supposed to look “real,” even when many of the scenes were shot on actual location. Instead, this is a world where the emotion of the characters dictates the look, and Demy and Rabier accomplish that in wonderful fashion.
Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo were perfectly cast as the two ill-fated lovers. They work so well together, their chemistry flowing so smoothly, that it’s easy to buy in to their romance, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when we see it develop. Castelnuovo is an interesting actor; he has a face that can play different emotions while not needing to overly emote. With a certain expression, he can portray happiness and likeability, but can turn it to pessimism and despair with the exact same look. For Deneuve, this is one of many roles in a career that solidified her as one of France’s biggest stars. From Repulsion (1965) and Belle De Jour (1967), to The Last Metro (1980) and on to the present day, Deneuve is an actress who seems to be in constant demand, remaining ageless both in her craft and her beauty. With this early role of hers, she took on a character that played different emotional levels at different parts of her life. Notice how she is so youthful and innocent-like in the beginning, but once we reach the end of the film, she seems more grown, older, more experienced, even when she was the exact same age in reality.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg would go on to be one of the most highly acclaimed films of its year. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Song, Score, Screenplay, and as Best Foreign Language Film. It would win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. This is all understandable, because this is a film that is difficult to not at least admire. I think what makes the film so likeable is that there are no antagonists in this movie; there are no bad guys trying to disrupt the relationship between Guy and Geneviève. Everyone in the film is a good person, and all want to see the best to come out for everyone else. Madame Emery truly cares about her daughter, and only tries to sway her away from Guy out of the best of intentions. Madeleine sincerely loves Guy, and wants the most for him, and when she questions his loyalty to her, it is not out of jealousy, but out of a sense of caring. She does not want to him to be with her if he does not truly desire to be. In the end, the stars were not aligned for Guy and Genviève, but what a perfect time it was while it lasted.