Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The (1964)

Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The (1964)

“He’ll be away for two years. I can’t live without him — I’ll die.”

When her lover (Nino Castelnuovo) is sent to fight in Algeria, a young woman (Catherine Deneuve) working with her mother (Anne Vernon) in an umbrella shop faces the challenging decision of how to manage a wealthy would-be suitor (Marc Michel).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Catherine Deneuve Films
  • French Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Jacques Demy Films
  • Musicals
  • Romance
  • Star-Crossed Lovers
  • Veterans

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “experimental work by Jacques Demy” — “for all of us who occasionally burst into song at the dinner table, with a melodic ‘Will youuuu pass theeee bread, pleeeease???'” — is “a throwback to the all-singing Hollywood musicals of the late twenties,” given that “all the dialogue — including mundane lines — is sung.” He asserts that “everything is so pretty — the enchantingly colored pink-and-red-dominated sets:

… the music by Michel Legrand, the dubbed voices, and the young faces:

— that you’d expect to be sickened by the whole thing,” but it “is, surprisingly, quite pleasant to sit through.” He notes that the “picture was extremely popular because it manages to be cheerful due to its colorful look and music, yet cynical due to the sad events that occur and Demy’s lyrics” — and he adds that “young people in the sixties liked it because, despite its fairytale appearance, it dealt with what was important to them: premarital sex, love, pregnancy, dealing with parental figures, and war.”

While I appreciate everything about this film that makes it a distinctive and masterfully directed entry in mid-century French cinema, I’ll admit to not being a personal fan. It’s certainly beautiful, well-acted by young Deneuve, and charmingly scored — yet the far-too-bleak storyline makes it ultimately unpleasant “to sit through”. The realism of its narrative — including its heart-wrenching final scene — is what many seem to appreciate about it, but not me; and I ultimately find the incessantly sung dialogue to be tiresome and over-the-top. However, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is unique and visually distinctive enough to merit a one-time viewing by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Catherine Deneuve as Genevieve
  • Vibrant cinematography and sets

  • Fine use of location shooting
  • Michel Legrand’s incomparable score

Must See?
Yes, as a cinematic classic — though you may or may not want a repeat visit.


  • Foreign Gem
  • Genuine Classic

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


3 thoughts on “Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The (1964)

  1. Not must-see. Only for hopeless romantics.

    While I can see how this film would have been very popular in its day (there’s something very ’60s about it in its look and its approach), I’d be curious to know just how popular it remains.

    Not that it ultimately matters. This is a film that, in dominant tone, alternates between schmaltz and banality. It boasts lovers who remind me of the ones in Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’: two people who, inexplicably, simply can’t stop talking about how much in love with each other they are. (Zzzzz…..)

    It’s not so much a beautiful film as it is a garish one; visually, it’s less inviting than just plain loud. Legrand’s score comes alive in its two distinctive themes (‘I Will Wait For You’; ‘Watch What Happens’ – both later enhanced by English lyrics) but, otherwise, it’s a bit of a slog (even if it is pleasant).

    The biggest disappointment is the way Demy chooses to end his story. You would think that, in the final sequence, the thwarted lovers would reveal at least a semblance of their passionate past together – but, bizarrely, Deneuve and Castelnuovo act as though they barely ever knew each other formerly.

    I’ve seen four or five of Demy’s films. They don’t resonate with me personally (overall) and the appeal of them sort of escapes me. But… there is one exception: ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort’ – which I think is something of an anomaly in the director’s work. It shows his intent to his advantage, it’s a more-successful film and a must-see for film fanatics.

  2. This is a case where I’m really not a fan of the film itself, but still think most film fanatics would feel weird not ever having seen such a famous title (just to know what in the heck is meant by the “umbrellas of Cherbourg”!)

  3. Oh, I don’t know… one of my ‘rules’ about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about must-sees is that the individual films should be worth sitting through for some significant reason. (~ keeping in mind, always, that my opinion is just one opinion.)

    Along the way through this site, I may have broken that rule once or twice – I don’t off-hand recall – if a film is just too famous to ignore. But I try to stick to that for must-sees because so much of film-watching is otherwise optional.

    I tend to shy from calling something a must-see just because it’s a famous title. There are more than a few famous titles that I don’t have a high opinion of.

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