8. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) (Jacques Demy, 1964)
Jacques Demy was the great musical filmmaker of the new wave, re-imagining the classic Hollywood musical in a distinctively modern and European setting. He made several musicals and music-indebted movies, including Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort), which featured the all-singing, all-dancing King of Hollywood, Gene Kelly, in probably his last great role, but it is Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) that is his greatest achievement, and a truly singular film.
Les Parapluies is a tragic tale of love lost, as two young lovers (played by Nino Castelnuovo and Catherine Deneuve, in the role that would make her a star) are driven apart by the young man’s departure for war before the young woman realises that she is pregnant with his child. The young man’s failure to communicate with the young woman eventually leads her to conclude that he is no longer interested in her, and so she marries another, wealthier suitor. There is no happy ending as they only meet again years later, when they realise that they have both settled for other, less satisfactory relationships.
However, what elevates the story above pure tragedy is the music, which, in true musical tradition, is the only outlet for the otherwise unexpressed (even repressed) passions of the characters. It was written by the great Michel Legrand, one of the finest European composers of film music, and like the film itself it soars above the often ugly and always mundane reality of the Atlantic seaport where the story is set.