Plot: What’s it about?
I am going to be forthright before I review this film and the Blu-Ray itself. I am not a big fan of musicals. Most of them are a bit melodramatic for my taste, and typically the music might not gel with anything that I find myself listening to in my spare time. For me, the worst parts of all Disney movies are when they burst into song. I just can’t quite get into it. That said, there are some occasions where I can get into it. My wife and I both like Les Miserables pretty well, and I recently saw and enjoyed (for the most part) The Book of Mormon. So, it should come as a surprise that I found myself enjoying The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
The film itself is quite unique. Jacques Demy had just directed Lola and Bay of Angels, which I really admire. As his next project he enlisted the composer Michel Legrand and began to write a musical where every line in the film would be sung. That’s right. Every line. This is either a selling point or the downfall of the film depending on whom you ask. Personally, at first I was a bit annoyed. As the film progressed to around the thirty minute mark, I warmed up to the idea, and by the end of the film I thought it had become pretty effective. My wife in the other hand (who loves musical theatre) could not get into it and gave up after twenty minutes.
The plot of the film is simple. The year is 1957. Guy, a car mechanic with an ailing aunt, loves Genevieve (a stunning Catherine Deneuvre.) Genevieve is a bit young and lives with her mother who owns an umbrella shop. Genevieve’s mother is a bit of a social climber and does not approve of Guy. In order to scrape together some money Genevieve’s mother tries to sell her jewelry, and they both encounter Roland Cassard (Mark Michel) a jewelry dealer who is immediately struck by Genevieve’s beauty. Guy receives some bad news: he has been drafted to fight in Algeria for two years. Genevieve and Guy share a night of passion, and she becomes pregnant. With Guy away, Genevieve’s mother begins to pressure Genevieve to marry Roland.
The film mainly works because of a non traditional storyline that makes sense and preys upon emotions that are normal and heartfelt. People’s actions in the film are realistic from beginning to end, which is hilarious to say about a musical. The other reasons the film is a success are obvious to any viewer. The film is absolutely beautiful. The set design is incredible, with beautiful technicolor pastels and vibrant colors in each scene. The other thing appealing is the music of Michel Legrand that fills each scene. Legrand is great and really gets to show his skills in this film. The acting in the film is great. Catherine Deneuvre is heartbreaking and beautiful and Nino Castelnuovo is great as Guy. Demy pulls off an incredible ending that people will not forget any time soon.
In summary, this is a musical that I can actually get behind. If you aren’t afraid to watch something totally different than the norm, this is good stuff.
Video: How’s it look?
The transfer of the film is excellent. Color reproduction is loud and proud. The movie looks fantastic from the beginning to the end, with very little to complain about at all. Demy was intent on filling up each scene with so much to look at and the film is visually off the charts. I have nothing to complain about here at all. Criterion should feel very good about this transfer!
Audio: How’s it sound?
This French DTS-HD 5.1 surround track is very solid. The choice to use the original stereo recordings and turn them into 5.1 surround pays off very well. The range is still limited, and will not blow away people that are used to Michael Bay films, but for everybody else, it sounds great. This is the best way that I think they could have produced a track from Michel Legrand’s recordings. It’s great.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Trailer – trailer for the new restoration of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. In French, with imposed English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
- Once Upon a Time… The Umbrellas of Cherbourg – this is a very enjoyable documentary about the production of the film. Watching the documentary made me enjoy the film even more and enhanced my viewing of the film. The archival footage of Demy is great and Michel Legrand is charming as hell. Well worth your time. The documentary also appears on StudioCanal’s release. In English and French, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (55 min, 1080p).
- Rodney Hill – Rodney Hill tries to place Demy in the same canon as the other new wave directors with mixed results. Worth watching and debating. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2014. In English, not subtitled. (23 min, 1080p).
- Cinepanorama – an archival interview with director Jacques Demy and legendary composer Michel Legrand. Worth watching. In French, with optional English subtitles. (12 min, 1080p).
- Michel Legrand at the National Film Theatre – a long and interesting conversation with Michel Legrand. The only down side is that it is audio only. In English, not subtitled. (27 min, 1080p).
- Catherine Deneuve at the National Film Theatre – a short and sweet talk with the actress. Also only in audio unfortunately. In English, not subtitled. (12 min, 1080p).
- Restoration Demonstration -a look at the restoration of the film. In French, with optional English subtitles. (7 min).
The Bottom Line
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg completely surprised me. I could not believe how much I enjoyed it. The acting, directing, and music are fantastic. If you can get past the gimmick, there is a lot to enjoy here. I still prefer Bay of Angels and Lola, but this is a solid entry into Demy’s canon. If you are a fan of the film, Criterion have done an incredible job in their presentation in nearly every single aspect. If you are ready for something different, give it a chance!