1964 Palme d’Or Winner ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’ Celebrates 60th In Cannes With Special Screening & Two New Documentaries – Cannes Film Festival

It has been a big week for beloved musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the 1964 Palme d’Or and went on to international acclaim and five Oscar nominations and served as one of the key inspirations for Damien Chazelle’s La La Land.

The film got a special 60th anniversary Cannes Classics screening Thursday of the exquisitely new restoration at the Agnes Varda Theatre, which is named after the late director and is also wife of late Cherbourg writer-director Jacques Demy. This week also has seen the world premieres of two documentaries related to the film here. On Saturday night at the Buñuel Theatre in the Palais came the premiere of Once Upon a Time: Michel Legrand, an extensive two-hour documentary on the late great composer of Cherbourg and so much more.

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Then on Wednesday night, also at the Buñuel, was the unveiling of a documentary directed by Florence Platarets, Jacques Demy, Le Rose et le Noir (The Pink and the Black), which chronicles his career from his first film to his last and contains remarkable interviews with Demy over the years as well as terrific behind-the-scenes footage from all his films, including of course The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, one of the true treasures of French cinema and one of the most unusual films ever made since every single line was sung rather than spoken.

Jacques Demy, left, and Michel Legrand on the set of ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’
Jacques Demy, left, and Michel Legrand on the set of ‘The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg’

Catherine Deneuve, only 20 when she made the film, played umbrella shop clerk Genevieve, and Nino Castelnuovo (who died in 2021 at age 84) played garage mechanic Guy. They were a young couple in love who were separated when Guy had to leave for two years to join the army. She remained behind but was pregnant with his child, and things sadly never were the same when he returned. It is very interesting to note that the storyline still has resonance 60 years later as one of the Cannes Film Festival premieres Thursday night, Gilles Lelouche’s Beating Hearts, has a similar though edgier Romeo and Juliet style plotline with two young people in love, separated, then brought back together in a bittersweet reunion. It received a 15-minute standing ovation 60 years apart in Cannes from another tragedy-tinged love story revolving around young people.

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The Cannes Film Festival’s artistic director Thierry Fremaux was on hand to introduce The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’s packed screening (or, as the French like to say, “complete”) along with Demy’s daughter Rosalie Varda, who also was onstage Wednesday night for the Demy docu premiere. She and her brother Mathieu Demy have been responsible for continuing on the legacy of their father, especially since Varda passed away in 2019. She had been a ferocious keeper of the Demy flame, even directing her own documentary Jacquot of Nantes in 1991, followed by The Young Girls Turn 25 in 1993, a documentary celebrating 1968’s Demy classic musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort which again featured Deneuve along with her sister Francoise Dorleac and Hollywood musical stars Gene Kelly and George Chakiris. It is a musical film, like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, that is also an inspiration for Chazelle’s La La Land.

I have seen Cherbourg many times and it never gets old, a striking and colorful simple love story set to music. There is nothing quite like it. It not only was nominated for the 1964 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (it lost to Italy’s Yesterday Today & Tomorrow) but also the next year as well, when it qualified for other categories and was up for four Oscars including Best Song (“I Will Wait for You”), Adapted Musical Score, Original Music Score and Original Screenplay. It remains the only all-sung screenplay to get an Academy Award nomination in a writing category.

‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’
‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’

Hopefully the Legrand and Demy documentaries will find U.S. distribution. Both are quite fine, particularly Once Upon a Time: Michel Legrand (aka Il Etait une Fois Michel Legrand). It covers his remarkable career, of course, including three Oscar wins in three different music categories: “The Windmills of Your Mind” for Best Song from 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair; 1971’s Summer of ’42 for Best Original Score; and 1983’s Yentl in the Song Score category.

RELATED: Michel Legrand Dies: Oscar-Winning Composer Was 86

The best part of it revolves around what would turn out to be the final concert ever for Legrand at the Philharmonic in 2018. He had taken ill, and there was some question whether he would even be able to appear. He was weak, but director David Hertzog Dessites chronicles every moment both on and off stage, even with questions about whether Lergand would/could return after the intermission. He did and ended up conducting his stunning score for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It is absolutely stirring and a remarkable first film for Dessites, who was a self-professed fan of Legand and approached him in Cannes where he was doing a concert during the 2017 festival. It is a shame Legrand, who died in 2019, did not live to see this wonderful film and tribute. After Saturday’s sceening was over someone stood up and sang acapella versions of “The Summer Knows” and led the audience in “I Will Wait for You.” Only in Cannes.

For me this unexpected journey into the lives of Michel Legrand and Jacques Demy, and the return 60 years later to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, was like a dream. Or as Juliette Binoche said upon winning an Oscar in 1998, “like a French dream.”

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