For the first time in almost fifty years the other night I watched an hour or so of Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand’s jazz opera, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. I found that all of the things I liked about it then I still liked and almost everything I disliked I still disliked.
It features an astonishingly beautiful young cast. At 20 Catherine Deneuve as Geneviève hadn’t metamorphosed into the rapturously gorgeous Catherine Deneuve she was to become and has remained but she was nonetheless a very pretty young girl. Nino Castelnuovo as Guy and Marc Michel as Roland, her two suitors, were equally pretty. I couldn’t believe that Anne Vernon as Madame Emery, Geneviève’s mother, was pushing 40. She looked to be scarcely out of her twenties herself and the role was a marked departure from the femmes fatales that were her staple roles in the 40s and 50s.
The movie has what was a very original and creative look and style. There’s not a spoken word of dialogue—all is recitative. The cartoon sets, bright, strong colors of sets and costumes, and beautiful cast remind me a bit of the romance newspaper comic strips of the time.
On the other hand the principal cast can’t sing, the score is repetitious, there’s a conflict between the highly naturalistic action and the movie’s style. Sort of like French New Wave meets Mary Worth.
I won’t spoil the ending for you by telling you the details of the plot. The slightly transgressive drivers of the action were handled immeasurably better in Fanny.
One thing I noticed and was somewhat surprised by was how indebted Baz Luhrmann was to Umbrellas. The semi-singing but beautiful cast, the surreal look, and the operatic character that are typical features of his movies, e.g. Moulin Rouge!, are all right there in Umbrellas. I guess there’s nothing new under the sun.