As a young French soldier returns from Algeria, the girl he loved is gone, and her umbrella shop replaced by a washing machine shop. While certainly outrageous, the plot of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is realistic, and filled with formally artistic elements. One such, is the symbolic replacement of umbrellas with washing machines. The umbrellas presented in the film are colored, and visually interesting, a symbol of Genevieve's beauty, and youthful love. Washing machines are heavy, uninteresting, and domestic: a foreshadow of Genevieve's consequence in marrying Roland.
The film is very realistic in plot, for the most part, but certainly not in form. I say for the most part because a crucial part of the plot does not seem realistic, or consistent with what is given before it in the film. Genevieve's choice to succumb to loneliness and marry Roland just seems forced, and is very surprising. The fact that her and Guy have a child together, and seem hopelessly in love in the beginning of the film, sharply conflicts with her choice. Even the idea that her mother is pushing this man upon her would seem to make the choice even harder, as it is often a display of youthful rebellion and romance to disobey one's parents in matters of love.
As for the form in the movie, it clearly contrasts with the plot at points. As every line is sung, real dialogue does not occur in any traditional sense. The intense color coordination of the movie, and overall use of color also adds an element of fantasy to the movie. The overbearing pleasantness of the movie makes the tragedy sweeter, and more bitter at the same time. There is no reconciliation between Genevieve and Guy, but rather an incredibly awkward and sad scene which takes place at Guy's gas station. The snow outside is, for the most part, a complete change in setting for the movie, and accurately expresses the amount of longing seemingly pouring from the two former lovers. The audience is given some relief, however, when Guy's new family returns home, showing Guy and his son playing in the snow. Still one cannot help but feel that Madeleine is second best.
This movie is understood much more powerfully in the context of director Jacques Demy's real life. While he was married and had children with his wife Agnes Varda, he was a homosexual. The relationship between Guy and Madeleine is perhaps reflective of Demy and Varda, happy but not ideal. The youthful love between Guy and Genevieve that does not, and cannot pan out, is reflective of Demy's homosexual desires.