Criterion Corner: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

The Criterion Collection for years have been releasing the best versions of movies on DVD and Blue Ray.  They are hands down the ultimate compliment a film can receive,and while many claim  the Oscar to be the ultimate recognition.  Having the work and praise that goes into a Criterion edition.  Shows that it was put together by film lovers for film lovers.  This section is going to be dedicated to some of the great movies in this growing collection.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a 1964 musical directed by Jacques Demy and starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino  Castelnuovo.   It is about the relationship between two young lovers(Deneuve and  Castelnuovo) and  the challenges their relationships face when the boy is drafted into war. It is a movie that is really good, but it took me some time to discover that as you will find out.

When I first saw this movie I was fourteen years old and musicals never really bothered me.  At least I thought they didn’t.  Little Shop of Horrors was one of my favorite movies, and I even enjoyed watching My Fair Lady after I got it for my mom one year on her birthday.  At this age I was even watching foreign flicks like La Femme Nikita and Breathless so reading subtitles were no big thing.

With  all this background, you would think I would be a bit prepared to watch The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but I was not.   I knew that it was a musical and I knew it was in French.  I just had no idea that the entire movie would have singing through out it’s 92 minute run time.  When our two lovers meet and they are each singing normal dialog.  I had to shut it off.  I remember admiring the movie, but I just couldn’t get pass that the whole movie would have nothing but singing in it.

At around the age of 20 I was skimming through some old boxes of VHS that my dad gave me when I first moved out and I find The Umbrellas of Cherbourg again  I read that it got critical love from Siskel & Ebert, Rolling Stone and was awarded the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  I decided to bulk down and watch it and I ended up loving it.

What annoyed me when I first watched it was now charming.  The music by Michel Legrand works brilliantly in the way that it can go from moments that make you smile to ones that will break your heart.  Plus I could look past all the singing and just admire how beautiful the cinematography is.  The use of color in this movie was astounding, and I was saying this back when I watched the VHS of it.  It was a very well told fable and I could understand why it has been praised  Now The Criterion Collection has released a great edition on Blu-Ray and it looks and sounds better than ever.

This is the movie that made Catherine Deneuve a household name and she is incredible in this. Most of the movie follows her story and her arch of a young carefree girl to a fully mature mother is really good.  I have seen her other movies including Repulsion, 8 Women, and Belle Du Jour.  I have yet to see her follow up with director Jacques Demy in The Young Girls of Rochefort.

I could never find anyone I would want to watch this with and if I did.  It was always suggested that this movie is best watched while alone.  When you have others around you, it can be distracting and you will find yourself trying to seek approval by making small talk and jokes.  But when you watch this by yourself, you can engage with the story better in my opinion.

There is no promise that you will like this movie, and I’m sure many out there will not even bother watching this.  It does require patience from it’s audience, and I do admire that about it.  It took me 7 years before I full enjoyed it and for some of you reading this.  It may take longer.   If you did enjoy this. The Criterion Edition boasts some great special Features


    • 2K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
    • Once Upon a Time . . . “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” a 2008 documentary
    • Interview from 2014 with film scholar Rodney Hill
    • French television interview from 1964 featuring director Jacques Demy and composer Michel Legrand discussing the film
    • Audio recordings of interviews with actor Catherine Deneuve (1983) and Legrand (1991) at the National Film Theatre in London
    • Restoration demonstration
    • Trailer
    • PLUS: An essay by critic Jim Ridley

I am curious to find out if there is a movie that you didn’t love but now do.  Let me know in the comments below.   Thank you for reading

About The Vern

I love movies and I enjoy writing about them too. They both go pretty much hand in hand with each other and it's fun to discover new classics. I co host the podcasts The Film Pasture, ScreenTrax, and soon Cinema Recall. While also contributing reviews and articles to other great sites when I can.
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5 Responses to Criterion Corner: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

  1. Chris says:

    Every line of dialogue sung by the characters is shocking at first but I agree it grows on you. A colorful and charming film. Deneuve was very beautiful when she made this. My favorite scene might be the haunting ending.
    A movie that you didn’t love but now do? Head-On (2004) comes to mind

  2. ninvoid99 says:

    I saw this film a few years ago in the theaters at a special screening and man… it blew me away not just visually but also in its story as it was unlike anything I had seen before or since. It is a musical but not in a traditional sense and I just loved every second of it.

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