The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cherbourg)
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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.

The 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.

Then along 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.

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