Love is Made Up of Colors, Song, and Jenny and Guy

Paper by Chanel Yessner.

Colorful, like the Holi festival in India, with everything from the clothes worn to the decoration of the rooms to the bright umbrellas themselves, and a musical, and not just any musical but a musical where the singing never stops. Bring this all together with a new wave tale of love, war, and sorrow, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is created. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), directed by Jacques Demy, is a vital work of the French New Wave period. The French New Wave period is based on breaking from traditional movie making techniques and accepted ways of production and creating something new and fresh. Which is something that The Umbrellas of Cherbourg focused on doing. This movie is a part of the film movement called the French New Wave, which was focused on “new directors” opposing the “old school of French Cinema” by advocating “freer structures, more innovative subject matter, and an immaculate emancipation from the predominance of scriptwriters” (Lanzoni 205). One of the critical points of French New Wave movies is trying to make the audience member feel like they are watching a movie, to almost remind the viewer that this is not supposed to be authentic or feel natural. Still, it is a production that is made to entertain and be a work of art. Rather than the escape from reality that was supposed to grasp the audience like the traditional way of making movies does, the New Wave forced the audience to get out of their comfort zone and apricate the art of film making rather than just the diversion from reality. Jacques Demy smartly and creatively did this by making the entire dialogue singing which firstly reminds the viewer that this is not real life because, in real life, people do not sing constantly. Secondly, this innovated the way a musical could even be imagined. Also, the extremely bright colors focused on in the film are used to create an extreme that would most likely not be seen in real life, thus creating a cinematic world rather than a real world. This movie is also a French regional movie. It focuses on reflecting the lifestyle of people in the coastal region of Cherbourg, which is in the North; thus, it is frigid and rainy, as referenced in the title “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.”

The scene I have chosen to analyze in this film is where Jenny and Guy go out on their first date on-screen (starting at the dance hall). They meet and go to the dance hall together and discuss (in song) the current state of their relationship, specifically if her mother suspects their relationship. Then they walk along the docs and talk about their future together and how much they love each other. In this scene, many New Wave techniques and innovations of Jacques Demy are at work, such as the colors, the dialogue, and the camera work that all come together to portray the passion of Guy and Jenny’s love in the scene.

Firstly, the use of bright colors symbolizes Jenny’s passion and Guy’s love. It is the beginning of the story; this is the first time the two are introduced together to the audience. Their love is untainted and new, burning within their hearts, and they are overcome with these new feelings. The colors are used to reflect that their love as her dress is bright pink, and the walls of the dance hall are bright red. Both colors are historically used to symbolize love and passion. Then, as they walk at night, her coat and his shirt are the only sources of bright colors for a specific reason. It is used to symbolize two things, the fact that they burn and burn only for each other, which is also shown through the fact that they are wearing the same color and no one else is wearing it, which shows that their hearts belong to one another. Guy’s pink shirt is only semi-visible but where it is visible through his jacket is over his heart, which is a strategic placement to show where his love is coming from. The other aspect that the point of only them displaying bright colors in the dark night is to (like in the dance hall) emphasize the passion of their love for one another. Their love for each other is like bright candlelight that can light up the darkest of nights, which parallels how their clothes brighten up the dark night sky.

Secondly, dialogue is a key part of this movie’s provocative and groundbreaking nature. The dialogue is groundbreaking because it is a musical, not just any musical but a musical where there is nothing but singing. The actors sing every single line of dialogue. Demy’s work was the first movie musical that featured zero spoken dialogue” (Pochapska), thus being extraordinarily revolutionary and breaking from tradition, thus being a prime example of a French New Wave film. The director, Jacques Demy, answers when asked why he chose to have the characters sing their lines and responds, “I think singing is a natural mode of expression.” He finds it a realistic way of expressing emotions that seem to “make life more pleasant” (Demy). At this time, the French New Wave artists tried to make things more realistic; thus, Demy was accused of going against the ways of the New Wave movement. Still, he argues that singing is a natural way of conveying emotion; in this movie, it furthers the depth of the characters’ feelings. For instance, in the first date scene with Guy and Jenny, they are singing their confessions of their love for one another. The singing elevates how they convey it; for instance, while they walk at night and sing about their future children and lives, their song is much more filled with emotion than just speaking would convey. Their singing conveys how giddy they are and completely overjoyed and excited they are, and it is like they are so happy that they are sing-songy, which adds a sweet aspect to the entire scene. Thus, the dialogue being completely in song adds to the movie by just being “more pleasant,” as Demy would say. It contributes to the first date scene by heightening the vivid emotions and making them seem more whimsical.

Thirdly, the camera work adds to the focus on the passion of their newfound love. Using “long takes” (Maestu) adds a sense of forced direction, making the viewer study them more intensely. For instance, in the long takes of them dancing and moving through the dance club as the background continues, the viewer does not think about what is happening around the couple. The viewers’ eyes first take in the background of the movie, and then as the take continues, the viewer’s eyes settle in and focus on Guy and Jenny. Since the camera stays on them, it subconsciously forces the viewer to realize that these two people are the proper focus of the shot and that nothing else in the shot matters in this scene. As the scene progresses, the focus does not change; the camera stays on Guy and Jenny to emphasize the fact that they are so in love that the rest of the world is out of focus to them and that they only see each other and are not tempted or distracted by others. Also, the use of “shooting on location”(Maestu) with “the TRIPOD”(Maestu) which was also a key part of the French New Wave. With its invention it created the ability to use the camera to move around, which is exhibited in the latter half their date scene where they are strolling about, they are shooting o location at the docks and following the couple as they walk through the ports which adds to the scene because it seems more realistic with the way that it is shot. It makes it feel like they are actually on a date, walking home, rather than how when shot on a set it feels not realistic.

All in all, this musical broke boundaries, as the French New Wave strove to, by depicting a regional love story set in the north of France on the ocean, perfectly illustrating the lifestyle of this gloomy town on the water, filled with sailors and contrasting this gloomy town with the brightest colors on the walls, the street, the citizens’ clothes and on the umbrellas(which connect back to the fact that is a French regional film due to the excessive rain in Cherbourg). While also using the latest film innovation of cinemaphotography and, most importantly, only using singing as the dialogue, this film uses all these new, innovative ways of making a movie to further the depth of the love story it is portraying. For instance, in the first date scene, a lot of the depth of their love that is understood from these techniques and ideas Demy uses would never have been possible without such innovation on the half of the New Wave movement and Demy, thus making this scene of their love genuinely convey the feelings of Guy and Jenny’s newfound romance.

Works Cited
Criterion collection, director. Jacques Demy and Michel Legrand on THE UMBRELLAS of CHERBOURG. YouTube, YouTube, 10 Apr. 2017, Accessed 23 Oct. 2022.
Fournier-Lanzoni, Rémi. “The Years of the New Wave.” French Cinema: From Its Beginnings to the Present, Bloomsbury Academic, an Imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc., New York, New York, 2015.
Maestu, Nico. Unit 8: The 1960s, The New Wave, Musicals: Fraçois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Jacques Demy. PowerPoint Presentation.
Pochapska, Victoria. “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: A 60s Fairytale with an Unusual but Important Reality Check.” MovieWeb, 21 Aug. 2022,,that%20featured%20zero%20spoken%20dialogue.

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