The Criterion Collection, that powerhouse of fine editions of films on home video, recently released two blu-rays of films by French director Jacques Demy. Both had been previously released in their box set collecting a number of the director’s work, but this marks the first time they’ve been available outside of that collection. The two films in question are arguably Demy’s most popular works “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” & “The Young Girls of Rochefort.” Both musicals featuring an amazing color pallet that will simply dazzle and enchant anyone who hasn’t seen these wonderful films.
From 1964 “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” is a beautiful kaleidoscope of colors, entirely sung, set to music composed by Michel Legrand. It is also one of the most heartbreaking films I’ve ever seen. Set in the late 1950s, “Cherbourg” tells the story of two young lovers, Genevieve and Guy, who are in love for the very first time in their lives. Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) is a garage mechanic, who dreams of having a garage of his own, while Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve) works with her mother at the umbrella shop her mother owns.
Guy and Genevieve want to be married, but Genevieve’s mother says she is too young. The young lover’s plans for the future are interrupted when Guy receives his draft notice and is shipped off to fight in Algeria for two years. I don’t want to spoil any of the film, so this is where I must stop with the plot. What “Cherbourg” does that hits me right in the center of my emotional breadbox is show us that one thing that we all have in common. Regardless of who we are, where we’re from, or what we believe in, we all have experienced having a first love.
That moment in our lives when we feel so adult, yet still so young. When love is an overwhelming feeling that throws you on the mat in the most beautiful way. When life seems endlessly possible, and nothing could go wrong. This is not to say that I feel the older we get the less we have to feel hopeful or optimistic–I refuse to not feel those thoughts as I age. But the film so beautifully taps into those emotions of “What if?” that often haunt us about those we once loved.
Frankly, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” makes me sob every time I see it. Not cry, not weep, but sob. Sob like someone at a funeral, sob in a way that is most human and most beautiful. In an interview in the early ‘70s Demy said with “Cherbourg” that “I set out to make a film that would make people cry.” He succeeded wildly. It’s a beautiful movie, and one that everyone should see.
Criterion’s blu-ray of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” looks absolutely amazing, the film has a color pallet that is one of the most beautiful ever captured onto film. Shot on Eastman color, which fades rapidly, Demy decided to protect that color pallet at the time of the film’s production by having the movie not only printed out as a regular negative, but also onto color separation masters that wouldn’t fade over time. The film has a French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, with English subtitles. Bonus features include a few documentaries on the film, interviews with the filmmakers, and more. A must own.
Demy followed up “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” with 1967’s “The Young Girls of Rochefort,” his ultimate tribute to the Hollywood musical, even delaying the production by two years so he could have Gene Kelly in the cast. Again Demy teamed up with Michel Legrand, who provides a beautiful Jazz based score for this film, and cast Catherine Deneuve once more in one of the leading roles. Like “Cherbourg” this film has another incredible color pallet–drenched in pastels–but unlike “Cherbourg” it doesn’t make me weep, it’s a charming joy from start to end.
“Young Girls” is about a pair of twins, Delphine and Solange (Deneuve and her real-life sister Francoise Dorleac) who dream of big city life. When a carnival comes to their quiet town, they sense a chance for escape. Another film about love & missed connections, “Young Girls” is may be sunnier than “Cherbourg,” but just as great. It’s such a frothy confection that its charms are simply impossible to resist, outside of perhaps only the most hardened of hearts. Of the two films, I do lean a bit more towards “Young Girls” being my favorite, partially as I know it’s not going to destroy me emotionally every time I watch it.
Again, Criterion’s blu-ray of “The Young Girls of Rochefort” delivers that knock out Demy color beautifully. The film is presented in French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with English subtitles, the 5.1 mix created from a six channel soundtrack created at the time of the film’s release for 70mm prints. Like “Cherbourg” the bonus features include documentaries, conversation with those involved in the film, and interviews with Demy and Legrand from 1966 as they were working on the score.
Both of these films are gems and cinematic delights, if you haven’t picked up Criterion’s Jacques Demy box set, these two are an absolute must. I doubt you could go wrong with either of them. Films like these remind you of why you fell in love with the movies in the first place. A phrase I like to use, but most warranted here. See you next week.