The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (French: Les Parapluies de Cherbourg) is a 1964 musical romantic drama film directed and written by Jacques Demy and starring Catherine Deneuve and Nino Castelnuovo. The music was composed by Michel Legrand. The film dialogue is all sung as recitative, including casual conversation, and is sung-through, or through-composed like some operas and stage musicals.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJacques Demy
Produced byMag Bodard
Written byJacques Demy
StarringCatherine Deneuve
Anne Vernon
Nino Castelnuovo
Marc Michel
Music byMichel Legrand
CinematographyJean Rabier
Edited byAnne-Marie Cotret
Monique Teisseire
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • 19 February 1964 (1964-02-19) (France)
Running time
91 minutes
West Germany[1]
Box office$7.6 million[2]


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).[3] 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."


Part One: The Departure (November 1957)

Madame Emery and her beautiful 16-year-old daughter Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve) have a tiny, struggling umbrella boutique in the coastal town of Cherbourg in Normandy, France. Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) is a handsome young auto mechanic who lives with and cares for his sickly aunt and godmother Elise. Though Geneviève's mother (Anne Vernon) disapproves, Guy and Geneviève are deeply in love; they plan to marry and name their first child "Françoise". At the same time Madeleine (Ellen Farner), 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 have sex, perhaps for the first time.

Part Two: The Absence (January 1958  April 1958)

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 (Marc Michel), 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 Emery.) Madame Emery urges Geneviève to be sensible and choose a secure future with Roland. Geneviève marries Roland in a great cathedral, but she appears ambivalent about her decision.

Part Three: The Return (March 1959  December 1963)

Returning injured from the war, Guy learns that Geneviève has married and left Cherbourg. He has difficulty 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 Elise 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. Madeleine is decorating a Christmas tree. They appear a loving, happy family. As Madeleine and François leave to visit Santa Claus, an expensive car pulls in. The mink-clad driver is Geneviève, now wealthy and sophisticated. She has a young girl with her. As Guy rounds the car to Geneviève's window their eyes meet and there is a moment of awkwardness.

Guy invites Geneviève into the warmth of the station's office, where they chat as a boy attends to Geneviève's car. This is Geneviève's first time in Cherbourg since her marriage, she tells him; her mother died recently. Looking outside at the girl in the car, Guy asks, "What did you name her?" Geneviève answers: "Françoise. She's a lot like you. Do you want to see her?" Guy shakes his head: No.

The car is ready. At the door Geneviève pauses: "Are you doing well?" Guy replies, "Yes, very well." She opens the door and pulls her collar tight against the cold before looking back at Guy one last time. She walks to her car, gets in, 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 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:[4]

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

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.

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 54 critics with an average rating of 8.7/10, 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."[5]

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.[6]


Stage adaptation

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.[10] 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.[10] It was due to run until October 2011, but closed on 21 May 2011.[11]

The West End cast:[12]

  • Joanna Riding as Madame Emery
  • Andrew Durand as Guy Foucher
  • Dominic Marsh as Roland Cassard/Aunt Elise
  • Laura Brydon as Ensemble
  • Gareth Charlton as Dubourg/Sailor/Animator
  • Chris Jenkins as Ensemble/Swing
  • Meow Meow as Maîtresse
  • Carly Bawden as Geneviève Emery
  • 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.

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 prints had greater longevity.[lower-alpha 1]

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.

Les Bicyclettes de Belsize

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


  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". BFI TV & Film Database. London: British Film Institute. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  2. "Les Parapluies de Cherbourg", JP's Box-Office.
  3. Bernard Weinraub, "At the Movies; A Woman Robs the Cradle", The New York Times, 7 August 1998.
  4. Erickson, Glenn (2004-04-03). "DVD Savant Review: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Retrieved 2007-12-09.
  5. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) - Rotten Tomatoes
  6. Michael Rosser, Andreas Wiseman (29 April 2013). "Cannes Classics 2013 line-up unveiled". Screen Daily. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
  7. "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 28 February 2009.
  8. "The 37th Academy Awards (1965) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  9. "The 38th Academy Awards (1966) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 5 November 2011.
  10. "Riding, Meow to Lead West End Legrand's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg",, 14 January 2011.
  11. "Umbrellas of Cherbourg",, 14 January 2011.
  12. "Umbrellas of Cherbourg West End Cast" Archived 2011-08-17 at the Wayback Machine
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