I need to begin this review with an apologetic first: I swear to you all, I am not a cynic. I have been in love, I have also been in the kind of swept-off-your-feet love where the world is bedecked with stardust and where unlikely coincidences seem to point to your partner being fated for you. Those loves didn’t last, but often they ended with my beloveds and I growing into solid friendships instead.
I say all that because from the look of things, I’m going to be one of the very few people in the world who isn’t going to swoon over this as a beloved and poignant movie about First Love And Its Tragic End, and am instead going to grump about how it’s taken a run-of-the-mill plot and dressed it up in music and pretty colors in an effort to distract me. And I don’t like that.
The run-of-the-mill plot here is that of young lovers who pledge eternal fidelity before parting, only for life to intrude, alas. Catherine Deneuve is “Genevieve”, daughter of a widowed shopkeeper in the quiet French town of Cherbourg; her sweetie is Guy (Nino Castelnuovo), an auto mechanic living with his sickly aunt. They sneak out together whenever Guy can get away from his aunt or Genevieve can get free of her mother’s umbrella shop; but right when Guy proposes and Genevieve finally gets the nerve to tell her mother about him, Guy is drafted into serving in the war in Algeria. They postpone things until Guy comes back, pledging earnestly to write every day and to wait for each other – and then, big surprise, Guy doesn’t write often and Genevieve meets someone else and then so does Guy when he gets home and they go on to marry other people, the end.
Now you see why I was so defensive about sounding cynical. But try as I might, I simply could not get past the fact that I have seen this story a good many times before – once even here on this list, with Splendor In The Grass. This story has its own trope over on the TV Tropes web site, for pity’s sake. And while the music is empirically lovely, and the world of Genevieve and Guy brightly-colored, I kept feeling like it was there to distract me from the run-of-the-mill plot, and that just made things worse. Not that I hated the film, mind you – more like, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about and why this retelling of this old chestnut was so different from all the other times.
One moment did get a chuckle out of me – the fellow Genevieve ultimately does marry is Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), whom we last saw in the film Lola – and he even tells Genevieve about his unrequited love for Lola in one scene, confirming that it is indeed the same character.