The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)

The Movie: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max and the Criterion Channel

The Pitch: In a seaside French town, two gorgeous young people declare their love for each other, but war rips them apart. Can their relationship withstand such a blow?

Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is, quite simply, one of the most beautiful movies of all time. And considering how particularly bleak the news is right now, couldn’t we all use a burst of cinematic color?

The first thing you’ll notice about the movie, aside from its umbrella-heavy opening shot (which seems like it could have been an inspiration for the Pixar short film The Blue Umbrella), is that every line of dialogue is sung throughout – and the characters are not singing traditional songs that rhyme, but just singing their everyday conversations. It’s an unconventional approach from writer/director Jacques Demy, but that singsongy approach gives the story a lot of its power: hearing all those mellifluous tones somehow make you feel lighter than air as the protagonists declare their love for each other. And as the story progresses, their sadness and longing are more palpable in song than they ever could be in simple spoken word.

I remember reading that Damien Chazelle was highly influenced by this movie when he was working on La La Land, which drove me to check it out for the first time…and it totally knocked me on my ass. I feel like Al Pacino’s character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood when I use this phrase, but: what a picture! The colors in this thing – my God, those colors. The way Demy uses color here, in the costumes and especially the wallpapers and exterior paints of various buildings and interiors is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m not saying other directors don’t care about color – it’s one of the most important tools they have access to as visual artists – but is super rare to see color used so purposefully, so distinctly, and so extensively as it is in this film.

The love story between Geneviève (the positively radiant Catherine Deneuve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo, ridiculously handsome) runs the entire gamut of emotions as the story moves toward its knockout, snow flurry-drenched ending, and they’re both so expressive and magnetic that it almost doesn’t matter that both of their voices were dubbed. The Criterion Channel has a bunch of bonus features attached to its presentation which gives it a bit of an edge, but if you’re looking to break in your new HBO Max subscription with a true cinematic stunner, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg gets my highest recommendation.

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