Hollywood Flashback: Before 'La La Land,' 'Umbrellas of Cherbourg' Had Tinseltown Singing

Courtesy of Everett Collection
Deneuve as Genevieve Emery, who runs an umbrella stand with her mother, in the film that launched her to stardom.

The 1964 French musical was used as inspiration for Damien Chazelle's Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling starrer. Says the director, "It was the combination of fantasy and realism that got me."

The Hollywood Reporter went unusually poetic when reviewing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, saying the film was "as fresh as spring rain, as lyrical as a budding tree." But Cannes' 1964 Palme d'Or-winning musical had that effect on people.

Jacques Demy's romantic tragedy about a young girl (Catherine Deneuve, then 20) who falls in love with an equally young auto mechanic (Nino Castelnuovo) left audiences weeping, garnered four Oscar nominations and was said to be French President Charles de Gaulle's favorite film.

Part of the movie's allure is that every line of dialogue is sung recitative-style as in opera. Demy described this technique as "film in song." Cherbourg had a renaissance in 1995 when a restored version, under the supervision of Demy's widow, filmmaker Agnes Varda, was released. Now it might receive another round of attention. Cherbourg, which itself is an homage to 1950s Technicolor Hollywood musicals, was a major influence on La La Land.

"No movie has ever hit me more," director Damien Chazelle tells THR. "I remember seeing it for the first time as a kid and going from annoyed — 'Are they really going to do this much singing?' — to utterly overwhelmed by the end. It was the combination of fantasy and realism that got me." 

This story first appeared in a January standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.