Our review of Bonjour Tristesse (Blu-ray), published November 22nd, 2012, is also available.
Hello good life. Goodbye happiness.
Independent producer-director Otto Preminger brought us some of the most notable, politically apropos films of the late 1950s through the '60s. Anatomy of a Murder focuses on the American judicial system and rape, Exodus targets the founding of Israel, and Advise and Consent deals with the U.S. government and homosexuality. Bonjour Tristesse, an adaptation of the 1950s scandalous and best-selling French novel by Françoise Sagan, is a precocious French teenager's bitter coming-of-age story.
Facts of the Case
Raymond (David Niven, Wuthering Heights) is a wealthy, Parisian widower vacationing in a villa on the French Riviera. His daughter, Cecile (Jean Seberg, Paint Your Wagon) is an amoral, precocious French girl who has just failed her examinations yet doesn't seem fazed by any of the potential consequences. The two are accompanied by Elsa (Mylène Demongeot) Raymond's flaky companion and Cecile's playmate. Joined by Cecile's love interest Philippe (Geoffrey Horne The Bridge on the River Kwai), the group enjoys all the physical luxuries that the Riviera has to offer.
At Ramond's invitation, Anne (Deborah Kerr, The Night of the Iguana, The Kind and I), a sophisticated fashion designer and Cecile's pedantic godmother, arrives at the villa. When Anne eventually submits to his charms, Raymond decides to discard his life of meaningless love affairs and begin a permanent relationship.
Cecile is initially glad to hear the news of the marriage, until Anne decides Cecile needs more structure in her life. Finding her daughter-to-be vulgar and amoral, Anne decides that Cecile will no longer see Philippe and instead shift focus to her examinations. Fearing for her relationship with her father and desiring her old life back, Cecile plans to ensure the marriage will never take place. However, her scheming ultimately leads to catastrophe.
Preminger makes excellent use of using color to communicate ideas and emotions in his film. The film starts out in present day Paris, in black and white, with Cecile as the narrator. As she starts the story of the previous summer, the film switches to flashback and vibrant color. The portion of the story told in vibrant color is Cecile's carefree past. Interestingly enough, we don't really know that Cecile is facing a deep sadness until the end of the film, where Anne's death and her guilt are revealed.
Bonjour Tristesse is an interesting commentary on human guilt and depression. Our picture: Cecile, a jealous and resentful teenager, desires to hurt the woman changing her life for the worse, but while she intended to hurt Anne from the beginning, she never intended to kill her. This is the information the audience possesses when we discover that Anne has been the victim of a fatal car accident. Cecile, based on her own sense of guilt, believes Anne was actually attempting to commit suicide, and she (Cecile) is to blame. The downfall of Cecile's character, and thus her depression is largely due to her inability to accept Anne's death may have been an accident, and that she had nothing to do with it.
Another key facet of the movie is its presentation of the "idle rich." Both Raymond and Cecil possess lives full of privilege. Any emotional attachments outside of each other are fleeting, and they seem to be able to fling any sort of negative emotion—sadness, guilt, and depression—aside with another glass of champagne, a new dress, or another party with the social elite.
While Raymond and Cecile enjoy their idle lifestyle, Preminger hints at the possibility of an incestuous relationship between father and daughter, or at least the desire for one (more so on Cecile's part then Raymond's, but present in both characters.) The presence of this desire only illustrates that neither Raymond nor Cecile are capable of involving themselves in any sort of long-term, emotionally committed relationship with anyone other then each other. Raymond may have had that chance with Anne, however it is difficult to be sure. Both Cecile and Elsa were able to spark his jealously rather easily, leading the audience to question the sincerity of Raymond's commitment to Anne.
The acting in the film was very enjoyable. While I have not seen the actors in other films to compare, I wouldn't believe Bonjour Tristesse is a work that any wish to keep unmentioned.
Jean Seberg was very convincing as Cecile, bringing forth a wide range of emotional honesty to the character where I think a lesser actress would have failed. Seberg also brings a believable chemistry to the relationship between Cecile and her father. It almost makes the audience wonder if she is jealous of Anne for taking her father away because a) she misses his attention as his daughter, or b) she herself (or someone much more like her) would like to be in Anne's place.
David Niven brings an immature, and almost naïve charm to Raymond. He is equally at place with Cecile and Elsa, though he does manage to portray a subconscious longing that is unfulfilled in his relationship with Anne. It seems, at times, as if she is more of a challenge for him, then a true committed romantic interest. Both Mylène Demongeot and Deborah Kerr complete the triangle well, as flaky Elsa and prudish Anne respectively. Kerr plays Anne masterfully, even hinting that the mature sophisticated prude may have a hidden sensual side. Elsa, interestingly enough, is the only one of the main characters with an accent, though they are all supposed to be French. I'm not sure if this was an intentional device on the part of Preminger to highlight her flakiness, or just an accident of casting.
Overall, the film quality was great. The DVD transfer shows no readily discernable blemishes. Bonjour Tristesse is very stylistic, using long and fluid camera movements. The audience has the feeling of being unobtrusive voyeurs, rather then an intimate part of the characters and the action. This technique of non-obstruction allows the audience to step back and see right and wrong from all perspectives. Our consciences are not imposed upon, and we are allowed to decide for ourselves where the boundaries or right and wrong are defined, and for whom. The sound was equally as good. The dialogue in the film was crisp and clear. The soundtrack music was very aptly chosen and helped define the setting and the mood of the scenes. Overall, the DVD was rather lacking in extras, containing only trailers for The Age of Innocence, From Here to Eternity, and the title feature, Bonjour Tristesse.
The film was thoroughly enjoyable, but contained little in the way of extras to make it a truly great DVD. Unless you're a fan, I would pass this one up as a rental, at least at first.
All involved are free to go, I had a good time. Au revior tristesse. Hello freedom.
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