The film that helped launch Catherine Deneuve to international stardom, the wonderful The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg has a slender story: a pregnant shopgirl Geneviève (Deneuve) is separated from her mechanic lover Guy (Castelnuovo), when the latter is drafted into military service during the Algerian war. But director Demy conjures up a work of sheer cinematic delight, transforming the dreary port of Cherbourg into a pastel-coloured fairytale world, in which every line of dialogue is sung to Michel Legrand's memorable score.
The magic here lies in the fluid choreography of the actors, in the elegance of Jean Rabier's camerawork and in Bernard Evein's ravishing production design, which combine to invest everyday settings such as an umbrella shop or an Esso garage with romantic yearning. Deneuve is luminously beautiful throughout, looking fabulously chic even in a maternity dress, whilst Demy himself pops up in a cameo asking for directions to the paint shop in a film awash in primary colours.
"UNLIKE MOST HOLLYWOOD MUSICALS"
Divided into three sections - departure, absence, return - The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg deals with so-called 'ordinary' characters, who have experienced the pain of lost love. This includes not just the two leads, but also Geneviève's mother (Vernon) and the diamond dealer Roland (Michel), who appeared in a younger guise in Demy's earlier film Lola. And unlike most Hollywood musicals, there's no conventionally uplifting resolution, more a bitter-sweet acceptance of happiness' transience and fate's unexpected workings.
In French with English subtitles.