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Film / The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) is a 1964 French musical film written and directed by Jacques Demy, starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo, with a musical score by Michel Legrand. The film is unique in that all of the dialogue, even regular conversation, is sung.

Told in four acts, the film follows Geneviève (Deneuve) and Guy (Castelnuovo), star-crossed young lovers in the port city of Cherbourg. Geneviève works in a struggling little umbrella shop with her mother (Anne Vernon), who disapproves of her plans to marry Guy on the grounds that she's too young and he's not mature enough. On that note, Guy is suddenly drafted to serve in the war in Algeria for two years, leaving Geneviève devastated. The two make love for the first time before parting ways, and Guy promises that they will marry as soon as he returns.

Months go by, and Geneviève is saddened that Guy hasn't written back to her in ages. With the umbrella store struggling financially, her mother persuades her to marry a young diamond merchant, Roland Cassard (who was the protagonist in Demy's first film, Lola), who falls for Geneviève. Still missing Guy, it proves to be a painful decision for Geneviève. Not helping matters is the fact that she's pregnant from just before he left. With little to no hope left for her and Guy, she ultimately decides to marry Roland.

Meanwhile, Guy returns from war early from an injury. He comes home to find the umbrella store out of business, and learns of Geneviève's marriage to Roland. Struggling to cope with the anger and heartbreak, he later quits his job, and his godmother passes away. Not knowing where to go, he ultimately finds a new love in Madeline, the caregiver to his late godmother. The two soon marry, and with the inheritance from Guy's godmother, they are able to build a family-owned gas station.

Four years later, Guy and Madeline have a young son, François. On Christmas Eve, Madeline and François go out for a short walk while Guy manages the gas station. Suddenly a car pulls up, driven by none other than Geneviève... let's just say, things do not end the way you'd expect from a movie musical of that era.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg provides examples of:

  • Betty and Veronica: Geneviève is the Veronica and Madeline is the Betty to Guy's Archie.
  • Bittersweet Ending: When Guy and Geneviève cross paths for the first time in years, there's no real reconciliation between them, the Old Flame having gone out long ago. Geneviève's mother passed away the previous autumn, she has had no children with Roland, and he and her daughter are the only family she has. She asks Guy if he'd like to meet her daughter. He refuses. Exchanging only a few words as they part for what is probably the very last time, Guy stands there as Geneviève drives away into the night, as he and Madeline play in the snow with their son.
  • Color Motif: Lots and lots of very bright primary colors everywhere, evoking a fairy-tale vibe.
  • Conscription: What separates the lovers, as Guy has to go into the army.
  • Conversation Cut: Genevieve tells Guy that her mother will respond to their news by saying "My little girl, you're crazy" for thinking of getting married at 17. Cue immediate cut to her mother saying just that.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Guy marries Madeline instead of Geneviève.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: A rare gender inverted version with Madeline. She's of the low-key variety.
  • Fainting: Geneviève faints in the umbrella shop which prompts a confession to her mother about her pregnancy.
  • Genre Deconstruction: It's a charming, brightly-colored musical about young love and parental disapproval! You'd be forgiven for thinking it's going to have to work out somehow. But the world does not bend for young love—Genevieve is forced to renounce Guy. (The idea that she could find a wealthy, besotted diamond merchant, though, does stretch credibility.)
  • Give the Baby a Father: Due to her pregnancy, Genevieve is pressured into marrying Roland Cassard to save face.
  • Happily Married: Madeline and Guy. Geneviève, not so much.
  • I Will Wait for You: Technically the Trope Namer; the song "I Will Wait For You" originated from this film, though the film itself presents a Subversion.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Geneviève gets pregnant the one and first time she has sex with Guy.
  • Love Hurts: This film's a tearjerker for a reason.
  • Love Theme: The film's main theme "I Will Wait for You."
  • Match Cut: From Genevieve burying her face in Guy's chest out on the street, to the two in the exact same position inside a cafe.
  • Missing Dad: Both Guy and Geneviève are seen living without a father figure.
  • Old Flame Fizzle: A rarity for a movie musical.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted for drama. Genevieve and Guy, when talking about having a family, agree that "François/e" would be a fine name for a child, either a boy or a girl. When they meet again after the Time Skip, Genevieve has named her and Guy's daughter Françoise, and Guy has named his son... François. It begs the question how much he ever really did move on.
  • Opera: The cinematic equivalent thereof, being a story told entirely in song.
  • The Place: The film's title is also the name of Genevieve's mother's umbrella store.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Genevieve's earnest plea when Guy gets his draft notice. She says she'll hide him somewhere.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The last shot of the film includes the sign for Guy's auto repair shop, which includes the line "Cherbourgeouise"—literally it means "belonging to Cherbourg" but it also translates to "beloved middle class." Guy's middle-class life seems much happier than Genevieve's shallow upper-class life. The French have a lot of... discussions about the bourgeoisie.
  • Severely Specialized Store: A shop just for umbrellas in a small town. No wonder it didn't run well.
  • Sung-Through Musical: One of the film's most famous characteristics is that all the dialogue is sung.
  • Tempting Fate: Singing "We'll be very happy/And we'll always be in love" in the first act certainly is.
  • Time Skip: Several. The largest one coming last, from March 1959 to December 1963.
  • Title Drop: The name of Genevieve's mother's store, as she mentions a half-hour into the movie.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: The first act of the film ends with this.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: The main theme in the finale ups the pitch three times.
  • The 'Verse: Many of Demy's films were interconnected. The character of Roland makes his second appearance in a Demy film, having previously been seen in 1961's Lola, also played by Marc Michel. And Roland even refers to a girl he loved and lost, named "Lola."
  • Voiceover Letter: Guy's first letter to Genevieve is voiced by him.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: Despite her earnest promise that she will wait for Guy's return, Genevieve is forced to marry another man because she became pregnant from Guy just before he left, and being pregnant and unmarried just wasn't proper at the time.