This candy colored love story is not for everybody. As a matter of fact, most people I know would rather run and hide than watch a film where every single line is sung. Even I, a serious sucker for musicals, had my doubts. But if you give The Umbrellas of Cherbourg a chance, you might well get drawn in despite of yourself. I've seen serious musical haters reduced to tears before this film was over.
Of course, the best thing about the film isn't the music, it's Catherine Deneuve. She's so young, so innocent, so lovely, it's enough to break your heart. To my mind, she's more beautiful today, but she was prettier then -- compare, for instance, her performance in this year's Dancer in the Dark (another musical, as it happens.)
"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is the story of two young lovers who are torn apart when Guy (Nino Castelnuovo) is drafted and sent to Algeria for two years. When it turns out that their last night of love left Guinivieve pregnant, her mother pushes her into the arms of a rich jeweler, and you know that heartbreak lies in store for the two.
I always have a taste for fairy-tale like movies that aim for magic rather than realism, and Umbrellas delivers because of its curious art direction. Filmed in Eastmancolor, it is luminous with colors. The prime-colored wallpapers, clothes, and umbrellas all shine bright and make the film a rainbow delight. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg looks more like Dick Tracy than Singin' in the Rain.
As for the singing -- the jazzy score is actually not too offensive, and since most of us are reading subtitles rather than listening to the words anyway, it feels like watching a silent movie set to some 50s French music. The lyrics are curiously mundane; it's like regular talk set to music. To non-Francophone watchers, the music creates a distancing effect that's not altogether unpleasant, and some of the melodies are catchy and fun. The love theme grew on me throughout.
I hate reviews that give too much away, so I have a bit of a hard time talking about the marvelous ending. I'll simply say that the film turned out both sweeter and wiser than I expected, and leave it at that. Don't let the music turn you off -- if you've ever been in love, or ever heard about the stunning beauties of France, then you owe it to yourself to see "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg."