The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
French theatrical release poster
FrenchLes Parapluies de Cherbourg
Directed byJacques Demy
Written byJacques Demy
Produced byMag Bodard
CinematographyJean Rabier
Edited by
  • Anne-Marie Cotret
  • Monique Teisseire
Music byMichel Legrand
  • Parc Film
  • Madeleine Films
  • Beta Film GmbH
Distributed by20th Century Fox American International Pictures (United States)
Release dates
  • 19 February 1964 (1964-02-19) (France)
  • 12 November 1965 (1965-11-12) (West Germany)
Running time
91 minutes
  • France
  • West Germany
Box office$7.6 million[1]

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (French: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) is a 1964 musical romantic drama film written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music by Michel Legrand. Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo star as two young lovers in the French city of Cherbourg, separated by circumstance. The film's dialogue is entirely sung as recitative, including casual conversation, and is sung-through, or through-composed, like some operas and stage musicals.[2] It has been seen as the middle part of an informal "romantic trilogy" of Demy films that share some of the same actors, characters, and overall look, coming after Lola (1961) and before The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967). The French-language film was a co-production between France and West Germany.[3]

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg won the Palme d'Or at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival. In the United States, it was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Foreign-Language Film, Best Original Screenplay (Demy), and Best Original Score (Demy and Legrand). The film's main theme, "I Will Wait for You", was nominated for Best Original Song. It was later adapted into an English-language stage musical.

In 2018, a BBC Culture critics' poll ranked the film in the Top 100 Greatest Non-English Films of All Time.[4]


Part One: The Departure (November 1957)[edit]

Madame Émery and her beautiful 17-year-old daughter Geneviève have a tiny, struggling umbrella boutique in the coastal town of Cherbourg in Normandy. Guy is a handsome young auto mechanic who lives with and cares for his sickly aunt and godmother Élise. Though Geneviève's mother disapproves, Guy and Geneviève are deeply in love; they plan to marry and name their first child Françoise. At the same time, Madeleine, a quiet young woman who looks after Guy's aunt, is secretly in love with Guy.

Guy is drafted to serve in the Algerian War. The night before he leaves, he and Geneviève pledge their undying love and make love, presumably for the first time.

Part Two: The Absence (January–April 1958)[edit]

Geneviève learns she is pregnant and writes to Guy, but his replies are sporadic. Her mother tells her to give up on Guy – he has forgotten her. Geneviève is courted by Roland Cassard, a kind, young, very wealthy Parisian jeweler; he wants to marry her despite her pregnancy. In one of the connections among Demy's trilogy of films, Roland had previously unsuccessfully wooed the title character in the earlier Lola (1961); now he relates a version of this story to Madame Émery. Madame Émery urges Geneviève to be sensible and choose a secure future with Roland. Roland announces that he will be going to Amsterdam for three months, and will wait for Geneviève's answer until his return. Geneviève marries Roland in a great cathedral, but she appears ambivalent about her decision.

Part Three: The Return (March 1959 – December 1963)[edit]

Returning injured from the war, Guy learns that Geneviève has married and left Cherbourg. He has a difficult time readjusting to civilian life. After an argument with his boss he quits his job, goes drinking in a seedy bar, and spends the night with a prostitute. When he returns to his apartment, Madeleine tells him that his aunt Élise has died.

Guy sees that Madeleine loves him, and he rebuilds his life with her help. Using the inheritance from his aunt he opens a new "American-style" gas station. Madeleine agrees to marry him, though she wonders whether he is merely on the rebound after losing Geneviève.

Four years later, on a snowy Christmas Eve, Guy and Madeleine are in the office of their gas station with their small son François. As Madeleine and François leave to visit Santa Claus, a car pulls in. The mink-clad driver is Geneviève, now wealthy and sophisticated. She has a young girl with her, their daughter Françoise.

Guy invites Geneviève into the warmth of the station's office, where they chat as a boy attends to Geneviève's car. Geneviève reveals this is her first time in Cherbourg since her marriage, and tells Guy that her mother died recently. When asked if he wants to meet his daughter, Guy declines.

Once the car is ready Geneviève and Guy finish their conversation. On her way out, Geneviève opens the door and pulls her collar tight against the cold before looking back at Guy one last time. She walks to her car and drives off. Madeleine returns with François, and Guy greets her with a kiss. As the camera pulls back, he frolics with his son in the snow, then picks him up and follows Madeleine inside.


The majority of the principal actors' voices were dubbed.


Umbrellas is the middle film in an informal "romantic trilogy" of Demy films that share some of the same actors, characters, and overall look; it comes after Lola (1961) and before The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967).[5] The film was very successful in France, and was also shown internationally, introducing Deneuve to a larger audience. It was nominated for several Academy Awards, including for Best Foreign Film, Best Song, Best Soundtrack, and Best Original Screenplay. It won three awards at the 1964 Cannes Film Festival, including its top prize, the Palme d'Or. Jim Ridley has called Cherbourg "the most affecting of movie musicals, and perhaps the fullest expression of [Demy's] career-long fascination with the entwining of real life, chance, and the bewitching artifice of cinematic illusion."


The continuous music score and the brightly coloured photography had much to do with the popularity of this film. Formally the work is operatic, with the plot advanced entirely through dialogue sung with accompanying music. The colour photography is bright and vivid. The whole is united by an orchestral score of simple rhythms and tunes that are integrated with the story covering five years.

Since the cast were not trained singers, most of the actors' voices were dubbed and lipsynced:[6]

  • Danielle Licari: Geneviève Émery
  • José Bartel: Guy Foucher
  • Christiane Legrand: Madame Émery
  • Georges Blaness: Roland Cassard
  • Claudine Meunier: Madeleine
  • Claire Leclerc: Aunt Élise
  • Michel Legrand: Jean

The film score established composer Michel Legrand's reputation in Hollywood. He later scored other films, winning three Oscars. In North America, two of the film's songs became hits and were recorded by many artists: "I Will Wait for You" (the main theme, also known as "Devant le garage") and "Watch What Happens" (originally "Recit de Cassard", "Cassard's Story"). Both were given new English lyrics by lyricist Norman Gimbel.

"Watch What Happens" was covered by artists such as Tony Bennett,[7] Ed Ames,[8] and jazz pianists Oscar Peterson[9] and Vince Guaraldi.[10]

Reception and legacy[edit]

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was met with critical acclaim and is often regarded as one of the best musical films of all time.[11][12] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 97% based on 69 reviews, with an average rating of 8.8/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Jacques Demy elevates the basic drama of everyday life into a soaring opera full of bittersweet passion and playful charm, featuring a timeless performance from Catherine Deneuve."[13] On Metacritic, it holds a weighted score of 86 out 100, based on 9 reviews indicating "universal acclaim".[14]

In a review for Empire magazine, Kim Newman awarded the film 5/5 stars and praised the "depths of operatic emotion under the hum-along singspiel" delivered by the films leads.[15] Nigel Andrews, writing for the Financial Times awarded the film 4 stars out of 5 calling the film "a body of work slim but exquisitely styled".[16] Kevin Maher for The Times, in a review of a re-release of the film in 2019, also lauded the film, awarding it 5/5 stars.[17] Significant praise has also been directed to the entirely sung through nature of the film, with both James Berardinelli of reelviews and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times praising this aspect of the film in their reviews.[18]

Some critics noted that the plot is similar to Marcel Pagnol's trilogy of plays entitled Marius, Fanny and César. The musical Fanny was based on Pagnol's trilogy.

A restored digital version of Umbrellas of Cherbourg was shown as part of the Cannes Classics section of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[19]

Filmmaker Damien Chazelle listed it as one of his favorite films, and as a major influence on his 2016 musical La La Land.[20][21] Greta Gerwig cited the film as an inspiration for her 2023 fantasy comedy Barbie.[22]


Stage adaptation[edit]

In 1979, an English-language stage adaptation, with lyrics translated by Sheldon Harnick, premiered at the Public Theater in New York City.

In 2005 a major revision by Harnick was produced at the Two River Theatre Company in Red Bank, New Jersey. Musical director/conductor Nathan Hurwitz provided new orchestration. The cast included Max von Essen as Guy, Heather Spore as Genevieve, and Maureen Silliman as Madame Émery. Other cast members included Ken Krugman, Patti Perkins, Robyn Payne, Jonathan Kaplan, Steven Stein Grainger, Brett Rigby, and Sara Delaney. Direction was by artistic director Jonathan Fox and choreography was by Ginger Thatcher.

In 2011, the Kneehigh Theatre Company in London presented the musical, starring Joanna Riding as Madame Émery, cabaret artist Meow Meow as the Maîtresse, and Andrew Durand as Guy.[29] The production was directed by Emma Rice. It was given tryouts at Leicester's Curve Theatre from 11 to 26 February 2011 and began previews in the West End at the Gielgud Theatre from 5 March, officially opening on 22 March.[29] It was due to run until October 2011, but closed on 21 May 2011.[30]

The West End cast:[31]

  • Joanna Riding as Madame Émery
  • Andrew Durand as Guy Foucher
  • Dominic Marsh as Roland Cassard/Aunt Élise
  • Laura Brydon as Ensemble
  • Gareth Charlton as Dubourg/Sailor/Animator
  • Chris Jenkins as Ensemble/Swing
  • Meow Meow as Maîtresse
  • Carly Bawden as Geneviève Émery
  • Cynthia Erivo as Madeleine
  • Matt Wilman as Sailor/Ensemble
  • Aki Omoshaybi as Sailor/Animator
  • Gillian Budd as Ensemble/Swing


The film version released in 2004 on DVD by Koch-Lorber Films is a completely restored version of the original.[6]

The film was originally shot on Eastman negative stock, which had rapidly faded and thus had become almost unusable. The various copies of the film used in the cinema circuit gradually lost their quality. Umbrellas thus could not be seen with the rich colours which Demy had originally intended.

Knowing as he did that the Eastman stock would fade over time, Demy had made the three main yellow, cyan and magenta color separation masters on black-and-white negative films, which do not fade. These black-and-white separations had greater longevity.[a]

In the 1990s, Demy's wife, film director Agnès Varda, headed a project to create a new colour-negative film from the three black and white separations. Restored full-color prints were made from this in 2004. The resulting film recaptured Demy's vision of a fantastically colourful Cherbourg.

Composer Michel Legrand assisted in restoring the original four-track stereo sound masters to digital. He remastered his score to produce a higher-quality version, released in 2014.

A digital version of the film was released on Blu-ray by Ciné Tamaris in 2013, on the 50th anniversary of its original release. This version was restored independently of the 2004 version with colour grading supervised by Demy's son Mathieu Demy.[32]

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize[edit]

The title of the film inspired a musical short subject, released in 1969 and titled Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, which essentially parodied it. Douglas Hickox directed the said short subject, and Les Reed and Barry Mason composed the music and wrote the lyrics to its title song, French and English versions of which charted in 1969 for Mireille Mathieu and Engelbert Humperdinck respectively.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This process is not unique to this title, but it may be unique within French Eastmancolor-originated films. In the United States, separation masters are made, and have been made for nearly every Eastmancolor-originated title since about 1952. Additionally, so-called "low-fade" film is now used for making prints.


  1. ^ "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg", JP's Box-Office.
  2. ^ The Criterion Collection
  3. ^ "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2021.
  4. ^ "The 100 greatest foreign-language films". Retrieved 14 July 2021.
  5. ^ Bernard Weinraub, "At the Movies; A Woman Robs the Cradle", The New York Times, 7 August 1998.
  6. ^ a b Erickson, Glenn (3 April 2004). "DVD Savant Review: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Retrieved 9 December 2007.
  7. ^ Watch What Happens on Tony Bennett's official YouTube channel
  8. ^ Watch What Happens (From the Film "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg") by Ed Ames - Topic on YouTube
  9. ^ Watch What Happens (Live) by Oscar Peterson - Topic on YouTube
  10. ^ Rickert, David (18 November 2004). "Vince Guaraldi: Oaxaca". All About Jazz. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  11. ^ Zilko, David Ehrlich,Kate Erbland,Christian; Ehrlich, David; Erbland, Kate; Zilko, Christian (29 June 2022). "The 55 Best Movie Musicals of All Time, Ranked". IndieWire. Retrieved 12 July 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ "The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg is timeless proof that musicals can be deep". The A.V. Club. 9 April 2021. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  13. ^ "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) (1964)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  14. ^ "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (re-released)". Metacritic. Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  15. ^ "The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg". Empire. January 2000. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  16. ^ "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg — a revival of Jacques Demy's classic". Financial Times. 4 December 2019. Archived from the original on 10 December 2022. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  17. ^ Maher, Kevin. "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) review — the hits are immense". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  18. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The". Reelviews Movie Reviews. Retrieved 12 July 2022.
  19. ^ Michael Rosser, Andreas Wiseman (29 April 2013). "Cannes Classics 2013 line-up unveiled". Screen Daily. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  20. ^ ""La La Land" director Damien Chazelle's favorite movie moments". CBS News. 25 February 2017.
  21. ^ McGovern, Joe (8 December 2016). "La La Land: Director Damien Chazelle's 15 Influences on His Musical Romance". Entertainment Weekly.
  22. ^ "Barbiemania! Margot Robbie Opens Up About the Movie Everyone's Waiting For". Vogue. 24 May 2023. Retrieved 26 June 2023.
  23. ^ "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 28 February 2009.
  24. ^ "The 37th Academy Awards (1965) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  25. ^ "The Shadow Of Your Smile" Wins Best Song: 1966 Oscars
  26. ^ Doctor Zhivago and The Sound of Music Win Music Awards: 1966 Oscars
  27. ^ Doctor Zhivago and Darling Win Writing Awards: 1966 Oscars
  28. ^ "The 38th Academy Awards (1966) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  29. ^ a b "Riding, Meow to Lead West End Legrand's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg",, 14 January 2011.
  30. ^ "Umbrellas of Cherbourg",, 14 January 2011.
  31. ^ "Umbrellas of Cherbourg West End Cast" Archived 2011-08-17 at the Wayback Machine
  32. ^ Restoring The Umbrellas of Cherbourg|The Current|The Criterion Collection

Further reading[edit]



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