By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Directed by Jacques Demy
THIS FILM is part of the ongoing 26th French Film Festival in Manila. There are screenings at the cinemas of SM Megamall and the SM Mall of Asia until Dec. 3. Tickets are P150 and P100 (discounted for seniors and PWDs) and are available at www.smcinema.com. For screening schedules, visit the Facebook pages of SM Cinema Mall of Asia and SM Cinema Megamall.
PEOPLE see France in an almost magical light, full of love and art and music, from Claude Debussy’s beautiful compositions to Renoir and Monet’s Impressionist paintings to Edith Piaf’s unforgettable voice.
With Paris once the stomping grounds of many European writers and the Louvre today still a bastion of famous art, there are simply many reasons that romance-loving Francophiles exist around the world to this day.
In the realm of cinema, a major contributor to this rose-tinted image is Jacques Demy’s 1964 masterpiece Les parapluies de Cherbourg, or The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Featuring a gorgeous Catherine Deneuve and a production design of vibrant, pretty colors (including the titular umbrellas), it’s no wonder this film captures the imagination of many French cinema lovers.
The story follows 16-year-old Genevieve (played by Deneuve), who is in love with Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) despite her mother (Anne Vernon) not approving of their relationship. The first act goes as expected — so sweet and romantic with all the pretty colors and singing that it appears their love story will inevitably have a happy ending.
As a sung-through musical, the saccharine quality of the film is at full blast, which might not bode well for those who don’t like watching characters sing the entire time in a movie. Still, its recurring musical motif is so beautiful, taking a masterfully somber turn in the end as the tragic love story unfolds.
This film, at first glance, is a picture-perfect representation of the beauty and love that France is known for, but the second and third acts turn that expectation on its head. As Guy is called to war and a reluctant Genevieve is being pulled towards the direction of another more reliable man in his absence, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg becomes a sweeping portrayal of a tragedy that befalls young love during wartime.
Like how the allure of France does not mean it is a perfectly romantic and musical country, Demy presents the idea that love does not defy destiny. It is sad and tragic and fleeting. Though Genevieve and Guy never do stop singing even as they move on, the colors and the songs they once shared will never cease to be beautiful.
Modern-day film lovers will also find familiarity here — a musical about a love that ultimately doesn’t work out? That’s Damien Chazelle’s 2016 hit movie La La Land! (Yes, it was totally inspired by Demy.) Those seeing the styling of Genevieve for the first time, especially when in pink, might even see echoes of Greta Gerwig’s 2023 blockbuster Barbie. (Again, inspired by this film!)
With that said, this year’s French Film Festival in Manila has such thoughtful programming, catering to various tastes and demographics. Aside from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Filipinos can see other timeless classics like Manon of the Sources by Claude Berri, Nelly and Monsieur Arnaud by Claude Sautet, and The Last Metro by François Truffaut in their full glory on the big screen.
Adventure genre fans of Alexandre Dumas’ iconic novel can enjoy Martin Bourboulon’s 2023 adaptation The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan while hip-hop lovers may want to catch Philippe Béziat’s documentary Gallant Indies.
Critically acclaimed films fresh from Cannes are also part of the lineup: The Taste of Things by Tran Anh Hùng, Anatomy of a Fall by Justine Triet, and The Animal Kingdom by Thomas Cailley.
Back to Catherine Deneuve, whose undying beauty and charm and expressive manner in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg lives on to this day, the French Film Festival is also showing her latest movie Bernadette by Léa Domenach, about the life of a former First Lady of France, Bernadette Chirac.
At SM Mall of Asia and SM Megamall cinemas until Dec. 3, these films (and more) are available to the public for only P150 — a very affordable price these days. To this writer, seeing Demy’s classic on the big screen was definitely worth more than that, but it is a joy to know that such lasting classics of French cinema can now be accessible to modern audiences.
Like how the romance and colors and songs of France remain wonderful albeit ephemeral in the so-called greater scheme of things, there is nothing to lose in the charm of celebrating their existence.