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Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The

Director: Jacques Demy


If you see only one movie over the next few weeks, be sure to make it Jacques Demy’s evergreen 1964 classic, here restored in finer 35mm prints than have been available for a couple of decades or more. Though it was hugely successful, it’s hard to imagine just what viewers made of it at the time of release, since even now it looks, sounds and casts a spell quite unlike any other film. For one thing, it’s all sung (but there’s no dance, although the cast’s movements are expertly choreographed); for another, its decidedly ‘everyday’ story – shopgirl Catherine Deneuve discovers she’s pregnant after her garage-mechanic boyfriend Nino Castelnuovo is sent abroad to the Algerian War – couldn’t be further from the upbeat fantasies favoured by musicals, even though the colour-coded set and costume designs lend the whole a feeling of fairy-tale. No film (with the possible exception of L’Atalante) offers such a tantalisingly heady concoction of mundane banality (lyrics about car-engine troubles, morose meetings with whores) and gorgeous, heart-stopping romanticism.
Michel Legrand’s memorable score (toe-tapping jazz alternating with aching ballads that subsequently became standards); an excellent cast headed by the fragile radiance of the 20-year-old Deneuve; Jean Rabier’s fluid cinematography and Bernard Evein’s stunning production design – all are crucial to sustaining the film’s enchanting bitter-sweet tone. Finally, however, it’s Demy’s unique vision and confident audacity that make it a masterpiece. Who else would introduce a major character who explicitly refers back to his experiences in the director’s earlier Lola (complete with formalised evocation of a Nantes shopping arcade)? Who else would allow a kindly aunt ot die and then make so little of it, or end such a gloriously beautiful film with a shot of an Esso station? The treat of this or any other year.

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