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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
(Les Parapluies de Cherbourg)

Jacques Demy

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Demy’s film opened in Paris on 19 February 1964 and represented a milestone in cinema, albeit one marking a road that few filmmakers have since taken: it’s a musical in which all of the dialogue is sung. Michel Legrand’s wonderful, romantic score does have big tunes but even the everyday conversations in between – from the chat of garage men knocking off from work to the shoptalk in the umbrella store of the title – are set to music, like a cinematic operetta.

"It’s also a film that tackles very real-world issues..."

If that makes The Umbrellas of Cherbourg sound old-fashioned, Demy’s film was anything but. The director was one of the great, young, modern-minded filmmakers who emerged during the French New Wave of the 1960s. A loving tribute to old Hollywood musicals, it’s also a film that tackles very real-world issues, like unexpected pregnancy, the Algerian war, parental pressures on their children, and what happens to young love when time and circumstances are against it. It made a star of Catherine Deneuve, playing Geneviève, a teenage girl working in her mother’s umbrella shop, whose mechanic lover is drafted to fight in Algeria. Pregnant with his child and pining for his return, she also attracts the eye of a quiet young jeweller, Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), whom her mother persuades her is a more eligible suitor.

 

 Screening as part of BFI Musicals! The Greatest Show on Screen, a UK-wide film season supported by National Lottery, BFI Film Audience Network and ICO. bfimusicals.co.uk 

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