ColorTherapy in Film: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Names: Benjamin Moore True Pink 2003-40, Split Pea 2146-30, Passion Blue 2053-50, Spring Azalea 2077-40; Ralph Lauren Bold Orange IB63, Beach yellow IB71

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of the most romantic movies about young love ever made. Each shot is an explosion of color in pop-art pastels--a color language that exaggerates the storybook quality of this romantic fantasy.

The film opens with an overhead crane shot of big round umbrellas moving about a street in the rain. But these are not your immigrant grandmother’s black umbrellas--they’re fun, pastel-colored umbrellas, and suggest that a whimsical narrative is about to unfold. Theses umbrellas are bright accents (just as our young lovers are) set against a rainy seaport. It’s from these opening colors that our production designers take their cues.

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Look at the umbrella store itself in scene two, with its overstated chic luxury of fuchsia wallpaper and black lacquer. No one would dare have such a décor, or would they? The colors in our umbrella store suggest a shopping fantasia, devoid of the mundane drudgery of this world. And look at how she stands out against it: Catherine Deneuve, the face of France.

As we continue through the film, each scene plays out its poetry with colored rooms that underscore each character’s type. Genviève’s bedroom is blue—a storybook blue of exaggerated girlishness as she laments lost love. Guy lives with his aunt in an apartment painted sickly green, emphasizing her age, her lack of taste, her infirmity, and perhaps foreshadowing the fact that she will die.

The dark orange in the café and in Guy’s new girlfriend’s dress indicates a variation on dangerous red. Or let’s call this color “poppy” and I’ll suggest that we’re looking at a storybook version of intoxication through new love.

And when, alas, we come to the final scene, it is the one set rendered in neutrals—dead white against a frozen snowy background. The scene is of a chance meeting between old lovers after several years have passed. The flame of young love has flickered, color has fled us, and we weep for our heroes.

With this in mind, let’s create our own palette of pop-art pastels. Benjamin Moore’s Color Preview deck is especially helpful when choosing saturated colors. Plus here’s this week’s helpful tip: when planning a color design for an entire apartment, I like for the chips of all my final colors to look good together in my hand. I propose the following: Benjamin Moore True Pink 2003-40, Split Pea 2146-30, Passion Blue 2053-50, Spring Azalea 2077-40; Ralph Lauren Bold Orange IB63, Beach yellow IB71; all trim in Decorator’s White.

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Special thanks to Benjamin Marcus for invaluable insights and clarifying perspective

- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter

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Maxwell left teaching in 2001 to start Apartment Therapy as a design business helping people to make their homes more beautiful, organized AND healthy. The website started up in 2004 with the help of his brother, Oliver.