Les parapluies de Cherbourg

Les parapluies de Cherbourg aka The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Jacques Demy, 1963)

Les parapluies de Cherbourg is the concretization of Demy’s childhood fantasy : to direct an entirely French musical. Brought into filmmaking by documentaries, Demy was the mellow part of the French New Wave. A member of the “left bank” because he lived on the left side of the river and because of his left approach on life, Jacques Demy made one of the first films of Catherine Deneuve and one of the most famous French film.

This wonderful tale of a beautiful romance is filled with lavish colours and entirely sang dialogues. At some point this ultimate effort of a total musical can get on the nerves of some viewers. I think it depends of the songs and the moments of the film. Moreover, I ain’t a great fan of musicals at the first place. I love The Red Shoes, Vincente Minnelli, Gene Kelly, and Stanley Donen musicals but it is at most what I can endure. A film like Moulin Rouge or Chicago was a total pain for my tastes. In the case of Demy’s film it is a question of mood, you have to be fully prepared to watch it and the quirky directing of Demy, the costumes, the sets, and many technical aspects can deeply bother someone with more subtle tastes and apprehensions. However, Les parapluies de Cherbourg was one of the most successful films of the French New Wave. The music by Michel Legrand has passed through time and still is a cultural reference for francophones like me.

The reference to Singin’ In The Rain is clear in the generic and Jacques Demy always presented his film like a ballet of umbrellas. Apart from being strongly influenced by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen his French touch comes from Jean Cocteau, Robert Bresson and Austrian born Max Ophüls.

One of the most important aspect of this film is the rigorous reality of the facts presented by Demy. The dates and the Algerian War, two constraints the New Wavers didn’t give much importance. They didn’t wanted to make films about politics or economics. It was one of the first French films to evoke this conflict.

Even with its great success with the critics and the moviegoers on both sides of the Atlantic, Les parapluies de Cherbourg is a film I consider to have aged badly. My favourite scene of the film is the final one at the gas station with the Christmas scenery that fits with the overly coloured palette of costumes and sets. A nice film but not a favourite of mine.


  1. I love Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and I also don't usually enjoy musicals. Especially how they don't just suddenly break out into song, but sing every single line of dialog. I also wish they still made films with bright primary colors like this.

    Have you seen Christophe Honoré's Les chanson's d'amour? That one reminded me a lot about this film.

  2. No i haven't seen Honoré's film. I agrée on the primary Colors and the sets of Cherbourg!

  3. I was disappointed by Umbrellas of Cherbourg because my expectations were completely wrong. Everything I had read about it (including this post) describes it as romantic and other than the first section, it's not. It's a movie that is depressing as hell - the last thing I was expecting from a musical about young love with bright colors and the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve.

  4. I can understand your point of view Chip. But I think this is the kind of film that leaves the viewer with intense sentiment and unforgattable imagery...

  5. @Michael - "Intense sentiment" - I completely agree. It just wasn't the sentiment I was expecting, is all. And yes, I like the use of color in the movie.

    I find that I am sometimes too strongly influenced by my expectations of a movie. Sometimes it is the hype surrounding something that leads me to be disappointed, whereas sometimes hearing that a movie isn't that good leads me to being pleasantly surprised that I liked it. Both films may have been equal to me had I not heard a single thing about either before seeing them.

    In the case of Umbrellas of Cherbourg, I popped it in expecting a warm, feel good, romantic movie and needless to say, that's not what it is (which doesn't mean that's a bad thing). Had I known nothing about it, I would have had no expectations. I don't know how I would have felt about the movie then.

  6. I think you're absolutely right about the expectation of a film.
    What I love about it is the fact that the story isn't falling in the saccharine side of romance...


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