Bonjour Tristesse


Based on a salacious bestseller by posh enfant terrible Françoise Sagan, Otto Preminger’s formally dazzling 1958 film is an edifice constructed of contrasts. A narrative flashing back from a glassy black-and-white Paris to a glittering Technicolor Riviera divides the world between serious, sober people and silly, inconsequential ones, and watches the wreckage that results when the two collide. Saul Bass’s graphics set the mournful mood in the opening credits, while the costumes—by Givenchy, Cartier, and Hermès—establish the milieu. David Niven and Preminger discovery Jean Seberg play hedonist father-and-daughter confidantes Raymond and Cécile, enjoying a frolicking vacation on the Riviera when Anne (Deborah Kerr) arrives. A family friend who professes she “cannot be casual,” Anne disturbs the duo’s entirely casual vacation and threatens to alter their lives permanently, as Raymond soon proposes marriage. What follows is a libertine inversion of The Parent Trap, with Cécile turning the breaking of her father’s engagement into a game of hide-and-seek, hopping doe-like through pine forests, until a denouement that leaves the silly people fatally serious. The keystone of an impeccable cast, Seberg narrates the inexorably tragic events of last summer’s vacation in a washed-out voiceover (“I’m surrounded by a wall; an invisible wall of memories that I can’t lose”) that sounds like the Shangri-Las’ rueful tune “Past, Present, and Future,” another elevation of pop frippery to tragic art.

Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.