The Umbrellas of Cherbourg Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
The rain falls overhead and the umbrellas–dozens of them in all shades–glide across the screen. Some seem to move without people underneath, as if guided only by the strings on the soundtrack.
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (LES PARAPLUIES DE CHERBOURG in its native language) is divided into three parts. The first begins in 1957, introducing mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo, ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS) as he leaves work to meet the blonde Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve, in one of her earliest roles of her now-60-year career). It is a bond not entirely supported by all, chiefly Geneviève’s mother (Anne Vernon, 1957’s COUNT MAX). The second jumps to the following year, with Guy off fighting in the Algerian War and the two finding love–or at least a version of it–elsewhere. The third takes place in 1963, concluding the story of Guy and Geneviève.
The film is not at cut and dry as that brief, purposely vague description. It is a touching picture, with love, regret and indecision on full display. The characters are rich and full of emotion and needs, wholly developed into conflicted and compassionate figures. More outstanding–and, depending on your tolerance of the genre, either adoring or irritating–is that the film is entirely in song. Early on, when a minor character remarks, “I don’t like operas. Movies are better.” it is already apparent that viewers are being treated to both. And somehow, lines like, “The engine still knocks when it’s cold, but that’s normal” and “Guy, I love you, you smell like gasoline” work in song just as they would spoken.
That is just one contributing touch that lends to the sheer wonder of Jacque Demy’s THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, making it one of the finest musicals ever produced in the history of cinema. When one watches the film, they might ponder, How can it feel so natural when it is so clearly phony and contrived?
Consider the cinematography by Jean Rabier, so vibrant and popping, sometimes feeling like melted Starburst have been painted on the screen. This is as colorful as even the loudest of MGM musicals. Or how the characters move, which doesn’t seem choreographed, but of course is. Or how the cast seamlessly weaves the songs. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cast was dubbed over by professional singers–Deneuve by Danielle Licari, Foucher by Josè Bartel and Geneviève’s mother by Legrand’s sister Christiane.) It’s difficult to tell where one begins, or even if there really are songs in the traditional sense, although at least one, “I Will Wait For You,” stands out, having been nominated for the Oscar. Or how the score, by Michel Legrand (who earned an Oscar nomination for his work–he would go on to win three Oscars in his career), somehow plays both a lead and supporting role.
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG is a film that will sweep a certain audience up and in. It is a marvel, something visually and aurally innovative, something entirely invigorating and refreshing, like a cool rain.
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “Approved by Mathieu Demy, this digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Scanity film scanner from the three-strip separation masters and the original camera negative at Digimage Classics in Paris, where the film was also restored. The 2013 restoration was undertaken by Cinè-Tamaris, with the support of the Cannes Film Festival, LVMH/Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, the city of Cherbourg-Octeville, the region of Basse-Normandie, KissKissBankBank, and the Banque Postale.”
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG looks absolutely stunning in this high-definition presentation. Details and textures are strong throughout, while colors pop with full vibrancy, giving the film a fresh look that shows off the gorgeous costumes, set design and cinematography.
Audio: French 5.1 Surround. Subtitles in English. “The 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered from the film’s 1963 monaural mix and a 1992 restoration’s Dolby SR optical negative and digital multitrack tapes.”
The audio transfer is also without flaw, and the sung dialogue and music come through with complete clarity.
Once Upon a Time: “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (54:24): This 2008 documentary chronicles the production of THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG. Interviewees include director Jacques Demy, actors Catherine Deneuve and Marc Michel, and composer Michel Legrand.
Rodney Hill (22:43): Film scholar Hill discusses the film movement(s) that THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG fits under.
Cinèpanorama (11:15): In this 1964 episode of the French television series, Demy and Legrand are interviewed.
Michel Legrand at the National Film Theatre (26:46): Composer Legrand is featured in this 1991 audio interview.
Catherine Deneuve at the National Film Theatre (11:03): Similar to Legrand’s, only it is actress Deneuve from 1983.
Restoration Demonstration (6:11) offers a look at some of the work that went into restoring THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, along with before-and-after examples.
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is an essay by critic Jim Ridley.