Film Review: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Jacques Demy’s classic musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is just as enchanting fifty-five years after its original release. 

Geneviève is in love with Guy, a young car mechanic. When he is drafted to serve in the Algerian War, Geneviève and Guy each take a different path…

Originally released in 1964, Jacques Demy’s sung-through musical gets a rare re-release as part of the BFI Musicals season. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg focuses on the poignancy of first love, with its bittersweet romance. Told in three chapters, the film is about the blossoming romance between Geneviève and Guy, and the path each takes when life gets in the way. The story unfolds in an engaging manner, allowing viewers to empathise with the two protagonists as the narrative takes its turns. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg sets up an initial friction between the passion of first love and the practicalities of living. Yet it is more nuanced than this, offering characters who make thoughtful choices. The sting that both Geneviève and Guy experience at different times is palpable. Demy successfully captures the range of emotions, translating them perfectly to his audience. 

Music in the film, by Michel Legrand, is wonderful. There are some very memorable sequences and pieces. The use of colour is also striking. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg harks back to the technicolour of the 1950s. The costumes and styling really help to set the era. The 2013 restoration is fantastic; images in the film are wonderfully vibrant. Catherine Deneuve is great in this early role. She really embodies the part of Geneviève. Nino Castelnuovo is also great, as is Anne Vernon. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a must-see for fans of the musical genre, and will prove very rewarding for even casual viewers. Demy’s film is an essential musical. 

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg will be released at BFI Southbank and cinemas UK-wide on 6th December 2019.

What To Watch On Shudder: Repulsion and More

Here’s what to watch on Shudder this week, including Repulsion, The Love Witch, and short The Grey Matter

What to Watch on Shudder: Repulsion

Roman Polanski’s Repulsion is one of the director’s best films. Released in 1965, the film was Polanski’s first English-language film. The film is about a young Belgian woman living with her sister in London, who descends into a perilous state. Catherine Deneuve delivers a great performance as Carol, the young woman whose mental state slowly unravels in Polanski’s psychological thriller. Repulsion is a landmark genre film, one that lingers after the credits have rolled. Read a full review of Repulsion here.

What to Watch on Shudder: The Love Witch

Anna Biller’s The Love Witch is an amiable pastiche of late 1960s/early 1970s exploitation films. The film is about a modern witch (set in that period), who uses spells to make men fall in love with her. Biller adds a feminist approach to the exploitation film, offering a protagonist with a commanding presence, and seemingly-strong male characters who buckle under the title character’s charms. Anna Biller is something of a one-woman film crew; she directs, writes, produces, and edits the film, as well as being responsible for art direction, production design, costumes, and music. The Love Witch is a visual feast, it is a colourful, alluring film that does not skimp on the gore.

What to Watch on Shudder: The Grey Matter

Directed by Peter McCoubrey and Luke McCoubrey, The Grey Matter is a short comedy horror. An office worker wakes up in an alley with a head injury and a later personality transformation, which seems him attract the attention of a beautiful colleague. The Grey Matter combines comedy with horror tropes, and does so in a light and engaging way. The short film offers decent special effects, and a story fit for its eighteen-minute run time.

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Film Review: Potiche

Potiche is a charming comedy from director François Ozon. Catherine Deneuve steals the show with her performance as trophy housewife Suzanne Pujol.

In the late 1970s, Suzanne Pujol is made to feel like a trophy housewife by her husband Robert and two grown-up children. When Robert is taken hostage by his striking employees, Suzanne reluctantly takes control of the situation. As she takes over the reigns from Robert, Suzanne becomes an effective businesswoman, surprising everyone around her…

Potiche is an inoffensive and enjoyable film. Based on the play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, Ozon’s adaptation is peppered with delightful lines. The film is not outright hilarious, but there are some amusing incidents and dialogue which maintain the jovial tone.

Characters in the film veer between well developed and one-dimensional. Robert is rather synthetic as the philandering and power-hungry husband, while Jöelle is the typically selfish daughter. Nevertheless, town mayor Maurice is rather more interesting, as is secretary Nadège. The latter in particular is very involved in the affairs of the family, and shifts accordingly with the balance of power.

Clearly it is Suzanne who is most interesting. The picture of her that develops in the first section of the film is skewered some revelations. The second half of Potiche works almost like a parody of her character in the first. This flip shows the film’s ingenuity; offering viewers something unexpected. The same can be said for other characters such as Babin, albeit to a lesser extent. What at first seems like a rather straightforward narrative actually produces small twists, which help to generate humour.

The late 1970s setting is fantastically depicted in Potiche. Suzanne’s wardrobe is marvellous; the protagonist manages to make a tracksuit and apron seem glamorous. Similarly, the set design appears authentically of the period, as does the soundtrack. These are best illustrated in the scene where Suzanne visits the nightclub frequented by her husband.

Catherine Denueve is fantastic in Potiche. She really embodies the character, and delivers some of her wry lines very well. Gérard Depardieu is also good as leftist politician Babin. Fabrice Luchini makes the most of his role as the lecherous Robert Pujol. Karin Viard brings a touch of lightness to secretary Nadège.

Potiche probably will not be to everyone’s tastes, given that the comedy is lightly amusing rather than consistently hilarious. However, those who give it a go should find the film an enjoyable watch.

Film Review: Repulsion

Roman Polanski’s 1965 psychological thriller packs a punch in the unnerving atmosphere it creates. Filmed in black and white, this low-budget picture was Polanski’s first English-language feature.

Repulsion‘s narrative centres on Carol, a beautiful but distant French girl living with her sister in London. As the film progresses, her psychosis becomes more and more severe, resulting in cataclysmic effects.

Repulsion exhibits the artistry of Polanski’s direction. The opening shot of a close-up of Carol’s eye immediately grabs the attention. This is followed up by many lingering shots, almost a visual interpretation of the protagonist’s mindset. Sound is also used to great effect in the picture; the ticking clock is particularly disturbing, for both Carol and the viewer.

Catherine Deneuve excels in playing Carol with the understated reticence required. Her disintegration is both disturbing and compelling to watch. Part of the brilliance of Repulsion is that it does not explain the reasons behind Carol’s psychosis. Whilst there are hints, the audience is left to make up their own mind about possible causes.

With the hindsight of what followed in Polanski’s personal life, some of the themes of the film seem unsettling in retrospect. Nonetheless, Repulsion stands as a landmark in the genre, as well as one of the director’s biggest triumphs.

Repulsion was shown at the British Film Institute, as part of the Psycho: A Classic in Context season.