Plot: Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) is a simple mechanic, but he dreams of marrying the love of his life, young Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve), as the two have fallen in love and are inseparable. But Genevieve’s mother thinks she is too young to be a bride, especially when Guy doesn’t seem to be able to provide her with the kind of life she deserves. At the same time, her mother does approve of Roland (Marc Michel), who happens to be a rich man and also interested in Genevieve. Fate intervenes when Guy is drafted and will be gone for two years, but soon after his service begins, Genevieve realizes she is with child, Guy’s child. She begins to worry about her future and her child’s future, pushed by her mother into considering Roland as a husband, if he is accepting of her current condition, of course. But as the young lovers remain apart, will true love keep them together or does fate have another plan?
Entertainment Value: This is a beautiful, romantic musical that remains a beloved classic for good reason, as it has all the ingredients you need for a great movie and then some. This is an unusual musical as well, as all the dialogue is in song and there are no real dance numbers, it is a beautiful story told in lyrical fashion, the result of which is unforgettable. I know the idea of all of the dialogue being in song will drive some off, but the approach works and since it avoids many of the usual musical tropes, I think even those who rarely explore the genre will find a lot to like here. The dialogue remains natural, even in this unique form, so the performances are allowed to shine and the narrative is more than capable. This approach could have derailed the emotion and cadence of the story, but it never does, the romance, emotion, and humor remain always effective. To be honest, after about ten minutes, the singing becomes part of the movie to the point that you forget it is a musical, though some big moments do shake you back to that realization. So it takes a little adjustment, but it soon becomes natural and never a barrier to the movie’s entertainment. And since the movie has so much more to offer beyond the musical twist, you have a lot more to pay attention to than the lyrical cadence of the narrative.
The beautiful lyrics and music are a key element in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but the visuals are remarkable as well. The movie’s world is filled with vivid and bright colors, making it feel like a pastel kaleidoscope at times. The use of light and shadows is also masterful here, especially when combined with those vibrant colors to create this bold, almost otherworldly, very cinematic visual design. I could get lost in the lush visuals of this movie, between the visual production design and the cinematography, which is fantastic here. A number of scenes just remain in your mind long after the movie ends, which is a true compliment. The performances are also wonderful, including a radiant and remarkable turn from Catherine Deneueve, who absolutely shines in her role here and was launched to stardom as a result. The camera loves her and so does the audience, she is simply breathtaking in this movie. Anne Vernon is also fun as her mother, while Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, and Ellen Farmer provide terrific efforts as well, quite a talented lineup here. I just love this movie, it is romantic, so beautiful and so lyrical, I can’t recommend it enough.