When I first saw
Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!
(2001), I thought it was the most distinctive, original movie I’d ever seen. But now,
after seeing this forty-year-old French film, I’m not so sure.
Umbrellas of Cherbourg (or, if you speak French, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg)
is the story of young, star-crossed lovers, Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) and Geneviève
(Catherine Deneuve), who fall in love and plan to get married—even though Geneviève’s
mother (Anne Vernon) argues that Geneviève is much too young to know anything about love.
But before they tie the knot, Guy is drafted and sent off to war. Geneviève promises
that she’ll wait for him, but after two months pass with just one letter from him—and
after she discovers that she’s pregnant—she begins to worry.
comes Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), a wealthy gem dealer who falls in love with Geneviève
the first time he sees her. Without knowing that Geneviève is pregnant, Roland proposes
before he leaves on a business trip and gives her three months to decide. She’s then
forced to choose between love and security. She can marry Roland and never again have to
worry about her future, or she can wait for Guy and hope that he still loves her when
(and if) he returns from the war.
You can probably already see the
similarities between Moulin Rouge! and Umbrellas: star-crossed lovers, a
woman forced to choose between the man she truly loves and the man who will give her
everything she needs… Now add to that the vibrant sets. Umbrellas has recently
been restored to its full Technicolor glory—and with its brightly-colored
umbrellas,costumes, and sets, it uses every color in a crayon box (and maybe even a few
more). But wait—there’s more. Both films are musicals, too. Umbrellas goes a
step beyond Moulin Rouge!, though. Instead of just the occasional song thrown in,
the entire dialogue is sung.
You’d think that, with all the bright
colors and the singing and the subtitles, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg would be
difficult to watch—that there are just a few too many distractions. But after a minute
or two, the music feels completely natural. And since the dialogue is so brief and
to-the-point, there aren’t any long lines to read. In fact, even if you’ve shied away
from subtitled films in the past, I promise that you won’t have a problem with this one.
And you don’t want to miss it. It may not be quite as over-the-top as Moulin
Rouge! (which, depending on your taste, may be a good thing)—and you definitely won’t
hear any songs by Nirvana or Elton John. But like its flashier grandchild, The
Umbrellas of Cherbourg is witty and dramatic and magnificently done.