The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

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The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Film poster
Directed by Jacques Demy
Produced by Mag Bodard
Written by Jacques Demy
Starring Catherine Deneuve
Nino Castelnuovo
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Jean Rabier
Edited by Anne-Marie Cotret
Monique Teisseire
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 19 February 1964 (1964-02-19)
Running time
91 minutes
Country France
West Germany[1]
Language French
Box office $7,686,180[2]
1,328,823 admissions (France)[3]

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (French: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) is a 1964 French/German international co-production musical film directed by Jacques Demy, starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo. The music was written by Michel Legrand. The film dialogue is all sung as recitative, including casual conversation (similar in style to an opera). It was styled full of color.

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).[4] The film was very successful in France with a total of 1,274,958 admissions.[2] It was also shown internationally, introducing Deneuve to a larger audience, and was nominated for several Academy Awards, including for Best Foreign Film, Best Song, Best Soundtrack, and Best Original Screenplay.


Mardi Gras in Cherbourg, 1963

In the late 1950s Madame Emery and her beautiful 17-year-old daughter Geneviève (Deneuve) sell umbrellas at their tiny (and financially struggling) boutique in the coastal town of Cherbourg in Normandy, France. Guy (Castelnuovo), a handsome young auto mechanic, lives with and cares for his sickly aunt and godmother Elise. Guy and Geneviève are deeply in love; they want to get married, and they intend to name their first child "Françoise".

Madeleine (Ellen Farner) is a quiet young caregiver who looks after Guy's aunt. She has feelings for Guy, but has not expressed this. Guy is drafted and must leave to serve as a soldier in the Algerian War. The night before Guy leaves, he and Geneviève pledge their undying love and make love (apparently for the first time). The next day, he departs.

After a couple of months Geneviève learns she is pregnant. She writes to Guy, but she feels abandoned when Guy writes back infrequently. Her mother says that this shows Guy has forgotten her, and she should give up on him. Geneviève is courted by Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), a quiet, kind, young Parisian jeweler, who is very wealthy. He wants to marry her even after learning that she is pregnant by another man. (In one of the connections among the trilogy of films, Cassard had previously unsuccessfully wooed the title character in Demy's earlier film Lola (1961); he relates a version of this story to Madame Emery.) Geneviève's mother repeatedly tells her daughter to be sensible and choose a secure future with Cassard. Geneviève finally decides to accept him, and they are married in a great cathedral. She appears ambivalent about her decision.

Guy returns from the war with a slight limp from an injury. He learns that the umbrella store has been sold, and that Geneviève married and left Cherbourg. As a veteran, Guy has difficulty settling in. He argues with his boss, quits his job, and goes to drink in a seedy port bar. He spends the night with a friendly prostitute named Jenny. When he returns to his apartment, he finds Madeleine, who tells him that his godmother and aunt Elise died the night before.

Guy sees that Madeleine loves him, and he cleans up his life with her encouragement. With an inheritance from his aunt, he finances a new "American-style" Esso gas station. He asks Madeleine to marry him, and she accepts, although wondering if he is just on the rebound from his lost Geneviève.

The coda is set on Christmas Eve 1963. Guy is managing his Esso station. He is happily married, and he and Madeleine have a son named François. While Madeleine is out with the boy, a new Mercedes pulls into the station. The mink-clad driver is revealed as Geneviève, now sophisticated and wealthy. With her is her (and Guy's) daughter Françoise, who stays in the car.

Shocked to see each other, Guy and Geneviève go inside the station to talk. Geneviève says that this is the first time she has returned to Cherbourg since her marriage. Her mother died the previous autumn and she has had no children with Cassard. The two chat while Geneviève's car is being filled with gas. When Geneviève asks Guy if he wants to meet their daughter, he declines. The ex-lovers part. As the film ends, Guy greets his wife with a kiss and plays with his son in the snow.



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.

The actors' voices were dubbed for the songs in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg:[5]

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) and "Watch What Happens" (originally "Recit de Cassard", "Cassard's Story"). Both were given new English lyrics by lyricist Norman Gimbel.

Tony Bennett's performance of the theme song was added to one version of the soundtrack CD. Harry James recorded a version of "Watch What Happens" on his 1977 album Comin' From A Good Place (Sheffield Lab LAB 6).


The film was well received by critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 98% based on reviews from 53 critics, judging it "Certified Fresh" with the site's consensus: "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."[6]

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.[7]


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 Emery. 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 Emery, cabaret artist Meow Meow as the Maîtresse, and Andrew Durand as Guy.[11] 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.[11] It was due to run until October 2011, but closed on 21 May 2011.[12]

The West End cast:[13]


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

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

Knowing that the Eastman stock would fade over time, Demy had made the three main yellow, cyan and magenta color separation masterson black-and-white negative films, which do not fade. (This process was similar to the creation of the older Technicolor process: see the article on Technicolor for an explanation of this "three-strip" process). These black-and-white prints had greater longevity.

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, now available on CD.

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg". BFI TV & Film Database. London: British Film Institute. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  2. ^ a b "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg", JP's Box-Office.
  3. ^ Catherine Deneuve box office information at Box Office Story
  4. ^ Bernard Weinraub, "At the Movies; A Woman Robs the Cradle", The New York Times, 7 August 1998.
  5. ^ Erickson, Glenn (2004-04-03). "DVD Savant Review: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Retrieved 2007-12-09. 
  6. ^ Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) - Rotten Tomatoes
  7. ^ Michael Rosser, Andreas Wiseman (29 April 2013). "Cannes Classics 2013 line-up unveiled". Screen Daily. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 28 February 2009. 
  9. ^ "The 37th Academy Awards (1965) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  10. ^ "The 38th Academy Awards (1966) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 5 November 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "Riding, Meow to Lead West End Legrand's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg",, 14 January 2011.
  12. ^ "Umbrellas of Cherbourg",, 14 January 2011.
  13. ^ "Umbrellas of Cherbourg West End Cast"

External links[edit]