Wednesday, November 23, 2016

BONJOUR TRISTESSE 1958

Seeing as 2016 has exposed America as a country hell-bent on both leading the charge and serving as the gatekeepers to the demise of decency and death of dignity; I wonder if the moral dilemma at the center of the Bonjour Tristesse would even appear as such to audiences today. In a world that takes its ethical cues from reality television, and where ego-driven consequentialism (the end justifies the means) has come to replace a humanist moral compass; the choice between a life of financially well-upholstered self-gratification versus the option of sharing an authentic emotional relationship with one you love, would likely seem a no-brainer to those who reduce human beings to either "winners" or "losers": Go for the villa on the French Riviera!
Jean Seberg as Cecile
David Niven as Raymond
Deborah Kerr as Anne Larson
Mylene Demongeot as Elsa Mackenbourg
During the nascent days of what has come to be known as the Jet Set; a year after Playboy Magazine branded and commodified the image of the ladies’ man; and a good six years before Fellini exposed the world to La Dolce Vita; 18-year-old Françoise Sagan achieved  acclaim and infamy when she wrote of “La Belle Vie” in her debut novel Bonjour Tristesse. Considered shocking at the time, Bonjour Tristesse is a wafer-thin tale of a precocious 17-year-old girl who admiringly but heedlessly adopts the sybaritic ways and philosophy of her widowed father—a shallow playboy—and the way her surface sophistication fails to prevent her from responding in the most childish way possible to the jealous threat imposed by the introduction of “a woman of substance” into their incestuously codependent twosome.

Though I only just read Bonjour Tristesse prior to writing this essay, its frank talk of mistresses, womanizers, adolescent sex, drinking, smoking, and basic, old-school bohemian living-it-up,  still resonates with a narrative and psychological insight startling in a writer so young. I can only imagine what the American response to the novel was back in the days when the strongest stateside glimpses of 1950s teenage life were provided by the polar-opposite rebellion/conformity images of James Dean and Dobie Gillis. And that’s just the view from the boys’ room. The scope of behavioral possibilities for girls was even narrower. Teenage girls of the '50s who didn’t fit into the conventional "biding-my-time-until-compulsory-wife-and-motherhood" of My Little Margie/A Date With Judy/Gidget mold, were always depicted as the “bad” girls in juvenile delinquency exploitation films. There was no gray area: virgin or "going steady" wife and mother to be...that was it.
Cecile and Raymond: Two of a Kind
Given Bonjour Tristesse’s risqué reputation, perhaps it was inevitable that the novel would be brought to the screen by Otto Preminger, a director known at the time for shattering taboos on the big screen (Carmen Jones - 1954) and challenging censors (The Moon is Blue - 1953, The Man With The Golden Arm - 1954). With a screenplay by Arthur Laurents (Rope, Anastasia) and sumptuous CinemaScope color photography by Georges Perinal (Oscar winner for The Thief of Bagdad – 1940), Bonjour Tristesse was Preminger’s follow-up feature to the critically lambasted Saint Joan, and only the second motion picture appearance of that film’s star: Preminger discovery and protégée Jean Seberg.

Every "plucked from obscurity" cliche in the book applies to then-17-year-old Jean Seberg being discovered by Otto Preminger, signed to a seven-year contract, and thrust into the lead role of Joan of Arc in his calamitous 1957 film version of George Bernard Shaw's play. The poor U.S. reception accorded Bonjour Tristesse when she was but a seasoned  veteran of 19 (the film did well in France) brought their professional relationship to a premature end.

Narrated by Cecile and presented as a series of black & white, present-time Paris flashbacks of the colorful summer she and her father spent on the French Riviera a year before, Bonjour Tristesse is a coming-of-age tale in which the getting of wisdom is paid for in bitter tears of self-recrimination. Wealthy, widowed playboy and zealous bon vivant Raymond (Niven) may be Cecile’s father, but he is anything but a dad. More companion than parent (Cecile calls him by his first name), Raymond’s conduct—a staunch disregard for sincere emotion, and a tireless pursuit of hedonistic distraction—is precisely the kind of immaturity that looks like maturity to an adolescent. Thus, Cecile adopts Raymond’s fecklessness, cynical philosophies as her own, unconnected and unmoored to either life experience or self-awareness.
Geoffrey Horne as Philippe
The drama is set in motion when a casual invitation extended to family friend Anne Larson (Kerr) is accepted, upsetting the epicurean balance of the heretofore frolicsome foursome comprised of Raymond and his mistress-of-the-moment Elsa (Demongeot), and Cecile and Philippe (Geoffrey Horne), a vacationing law student and eight years Cecile’s senior. The arrival of the chic and sophisticated Anne has the splintering effect of an adult entering a children-only birthday party: a welcome change-of-pace and escape from juvenilia for some, a fifth wheel to others, and, perhaps to most, an unfocused and vaguely felt threat.
British character-actress Martita Hunt (Anastasia, The Unsinkable Molly Brown) as Philippe's mother,
getting poker advice from the "brilliant" Elsa 

Whatever the initial response, the lingering impression made by the contrasting virtues of Anne’s maturity, intelligence, and sensitivity on the hollow hedonism of that summer, is the unwelcome awareness for all that “There’s gotta be something better than this.”

For Raymond, Anne offers the opportunity for genuine happiness and a rescue from a life of superannuated adolescence. Cecile, torn between admiration and resentment, keenly fears Anne’s unattainable poise will only serve to emphasize in her father’s eyes (per their atypical father/daughter relationship) the very chasm that exists between being a grown-up and merely acting like one. Unacquainted with what she stands to gain in acquiring both a mother and a father, Cecile can only see what she stands to lose in terms of the unimpeded path to instant gratification she is currently afforded by Raymond. Anne is more than a rival for her father's affections, Anne is a threat to Cecile's priveledge not to have to think. About anything. Anne threatens Cecile with the inevitability of having to grow up, and as such, Cecile sees her as a threat to her way of life. She must be stopped.
What follows in this gender-switch Come Blow Your Horn can best be described as a perverse, uniquely Gallic precursor to Disney's The Parent Trap as Cecile schemes to save her father (and most importantly, herself) from the specter of death by matrimonial maturation. With predictably tragic results.
Cecile Allocated To The Sidelines

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
Bonjour Tristesse is unequivocally my favorite Otto Preminger film. Although I arrived to the party rather late (I saw it for the first time just five or six years ago), it took absolutely no time for me to fall in love with its chic style, period sophistication, gorgeous French locales, and uniformly splendid performances. Arthur Laurents’ emotionally perceptive screenplay maintains Sagan’s view of Cecile as an unreliable, slightly self-dramatizing narrator. But by way of a nifty framing device that provides a glimpse of Cecile and Raymond’s life in Paris subsequent to that fateful summer (in eloquent black and white), Cecile’s deceptively colorful reveries of an untroubled past come to inform the scenes that take place in the monochrome present in despairingly poignant ways.
It's Only A Paper Moon
Enlivening my first viewing of Bonjour Tristesse was its having coincided with the broadcast of the reality TV trainwreck that was Ryan & Tatum: The O'Neals. A program to which I was religiously drawn every Sunday evening. Watching a real-life Cecile (Tatum O'Neal) grappling with a real-life Raymond (Ryan O'Neal) over his having let a real-life Anne come between them (Farrah Fawcett), made for a positively surreal viewing experience.

PERFORMANCES
From what I’ve read, much was made at the time of Preminger’s accent-clashing decision to pepper Bonjour Tristesse with but a smattering of actual French actors and instead have the lead Parisian characters of Sagan’s novel portrayed by two distinguished stars of the British cinema and a green teenager from Iowa. I’m sure purists and fans of the book were thrown by it all, but as one raised on a steady diet of Yankee actors in classic films speaking with clipped, mid-Atlantic dialects, not to mention British actors cast as everything from Egyptians (Cleopatra) to Southern belles (Gone With the Wind) to dustbowl Texans (Walk on the Wild Side); I can’t say Seberg’s flat Midwestern twang bumping up against Niven and Kerr’s veddy veddy proper English along France's southern coast caused me much concern. If anything, it made the authentic French accent of the adorable Mylene Demongeot stand out like a sore baguette.
As Elsa, Raymond's mistress-of-the-moment, French actress and '50s/'60s sex-symbol
 Mylene Demongeot  (still acting at 81) is a delight. 
Otto Preminger has never struck me as a particularly sensitive director, but the performances he elicits from the entire cast of Bonjour Tristesse are something else again. Thanks largely to the contributions of the cast; Francoise Sagan’s introspective-yet-detached novel is fashioned into a heartbreaking parable about the human propensity for casual cruelty.
How unfortunate it is that as a youngster I first came to know of David Niven via his one-note performances in what then-appeared an unending stream of atrocious, look-alike sex comedies (Bedtime Story, Prudence & the Pill, The Impossible Years, and The Statue). It took several years for me to come to appreciate—through exposure to his earlier work—what a consummate actor he is. In Bonjour Tristesse Niven adds untold nuance to his portrayal of a man-child who goes from enviable to pitiable over the course of the film. 
When Enjoying Each Other's Company Turns Into Needing The Reassurance of Each Other's Company


I love Jean Seberg in this, although I’m not at all sure I’d have felt the same had I seen Bonjour Tristesse back when it was intended to remedy the damage inflicted by her out-of-her-depth performance in Saint Joan. Time has been kind to Seberg, and the effectiveness of her Cecile is as much a triumph of personal style (she’s the epitome of youthful chic) as it is the distancing needed to assess her performance without all the nagging hype. I find Seberg to be remarkably good here, with even her liabilities (her line readings can sometimes be a little robotic) morphing into assets under the heady sheen of her unassuming star quality.
When it came to adolescent sexual independence, Cecile's unfettered license would likely cause
Annette Funicello's waterproof bouffant (the Beach Party movies were still five years away) to turn stark white

But the jewel in Bonjour Tristesse’s crown, the linchpin upon whom the entire emotional thrust of the film pivots, is Deborah Kerr. In an earlier essay on her work in the film Black Narcissus, I acknowledged the high level of esteem in which I hold her talent. Her work in this film is no less astonishing. More than merely serving as an identifiably "substantive" woman by way of her intelligence and poise (to contrast with Raymond's usual flirtations), Kerr confirms the narrative’s assertion regarding her character's sensitivity and vulnerability by giving a beautifully realized performance that is as wise to understanding the inner workings of this kind of woman as it is ultimately heartwrenching. She really is one of my all-time favorite actresses.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
Bonjour Tristesse is one of the most effective uses of 20th Century-Fox's epic-scale CinemaScope process for the conveyance of intimate themes I've ever seen. Although the French Mediterranean coastline has sweep and grandeur, Preminger and cinematographer Georges Perinal don't restrict the dimensions of the widescreen process to the mere recording picture postcard images. The expanse of the cinema frame is consistently enlisted to enhance storytelling and visually underscore the film's emotional conflicts.
Use of negative space to denote Cecile's emotional detachment
Space & framing reinforcing Cecile's perception
that Anne and Raymond have united in opposition
Once Anne and Raymond become an item, Cecile (from whose perspective the story is told)
always sees herself as just slightly apart
"Brilliant" economy of storytelling:
Albertine the maid helps herself to the champagne, Raymond & Anne share a private laugh,
Elsa begins to smell a rat, and Philippe & Cecile enjoy not having anything to think about  

THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Bonjour Tristesse boasts a magnificent soundtrack by composer Georges Auric. I only recently acquired it for my ipod, but when I was young, it was one of those soundtrack albums every home seemed to have.
French singer/actress Juliette Greco, singing the film's title song

Hope Bryce and May Walding are credited with Bonjour Tristesse's costumes and wardrobe, but the clothes that make the strongest impression are the striking, super-stylish gowns and dresses by iconic designer Hubert de Givenchy. Deborah Kerr, whose character is a fashion designer, wears one elegant outfit after another, while pixie-cut Seberg became an instant style trendsetter with her American take on Audrey Hepburn's gamine chic look.  

Looking at Bonjour Tristesse nowdigitally pristine, widescreen and positively gorgeousit's hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it was a flop when released 1958 (although the French took to it, but then again...that Jerry Lewis thing....). As I said before, I think it's one of Preminger's best: a legitimate minor masterpiece. And though perhaps not exactly true to the tone of the novel (for which I'm grateful. The film is more moral) it is nevertheless a movie I revisit with a great deal of pleasure and always leave with teary eyes and a sincerely touched heart.
Saul Bass
Copyright © Ken Anderson

27 comments:

  1. Hello Ken and thank you for your brilliant essay on "Bonjour Tristesse". It's been a while since I saw it. It's time for a new viewing considering what you write about the cinematography and framing of the scenes. I remember liking the film very much even though it was a sad story.

    The cast is wonderful and the setting so beautiful. I love Jean Seberg and could never understand why critics dismissed her so. She was a sensitive actress, so pretty with her very short hairdo which must have been quite daring to have as a woman in the 50s and early 60s. Thank goodness she was appreciated by european directors. I shudder at the thought of Otto Preminger being so nasty towards her. I think he broke her down and she never really thought of herself as a good actress after "Saint Joan".

    I long to see this film again on dvd with the right wide screen proportions and colours. I remember liking the fashions in it. They weren't as stuffy as they could be in films from the 1950s.
    -Wille

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    1. Hello, Wille
      I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. It's a movie I like so much I'm always so stunned that I never got around to watching it until I was in my 50s? I wonder what my younger self would have thought of it? Cecile's selfishness if the province of adolescence, I wonder if I would have seen it that way back when I was closer to her age.
      I like Jean Seberg a great deal in this, but confess to not having seen her in much. I saw her two "matron" roles: Paint Your Wagon, Airport)- in neither of which she looked particularly happy. I have yet to see any of her European films (I should never have seen the Richard Gere version "Breathless" it killed all desire to see the original).
      The whole Preminger thing must have seemed like a mixed blessing for her. He certainly made her a star, but it often sounded like he did everything to crush her spirit (Like Hitchcock with Tippi Hedren).

      Hope you have an opportunity to check out the digitally restored version sometime, it really is remarkable looking. And as for the film itself, it seems rather graceful in its sadness. My feeling about America these days is that in the pursuit of good life or the American dream, it has lost its humanity, just like Cecile. That very sad ending of "Bonjour Tristesse" makes me think that perhaps the only way our country can reclaim its decency again is (regrettably) to go through some kind of deep, profound tragedy. I hope not, but like Cecile, the US is in need of a LOT of introspection. Thanks for commenting, Wille!

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  2. Hi Ken,

    A lovely piece on a lovely movie. Honestly, seeing Deborah Kerr crumble when she comes upon the two of them is one of the most heartbreaking scenes in movies. It gets me every time, as does the final scene. It really takes my breath away. The parallel to Ryan & Tatum is scary. But how could I not even have heard about that show?

    I wonder if you’ve ever heard this fascinating quote from Godard—it’s totally understandable: "The character played by Jean Seberg in Breathless was a continuation of her role in Bonjour Tristesse. I could have taken the last shot of Preminger's film and started after dissolving to a title: ‘Three years later’."

    It’s so unfortunate that Hollywood had no idea what do with Seberg. She was far too precious and singular an actress for things like Moment to Moment and nearly matronly in Airport. I hope someday her “lost” film Birds in Peru will turn up somewhere. I don’t even care if it’s a faded dupe with Greek subtitles, I just need to see it. Bonjour, Tristesse is definitely in my top-three Premingers. The only one of his films I can’t bring myself to defend is Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon. But that’s just me, I think.

    Thanks Ken! As Elsa would say…”Brilliant!”

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    1. Hi Max
      I'm with you when it comes to receiving a major hit to the gut when Deborah Kerr comes across the duplicitous Niven, and especially the ending. I can't think of any actress who could have done a better job. Seberg to me is so marvelous.
      Thanks for the Godard quote. I had heard it before, but as I often say, what you guys contribute in the way of comments add information so many others may not know...all supporting the overall post. As I have not seen "Breathless" I can't vouch for the veracity of that observation, but I really love the idea. (I really think I'm going to go hunt out a copy of it soon...I feel out of the loop).
      There is a unique quality about Seberg that seems to require special handling. in the right role, she's incandescent; in the wrong part she seems almost incapable of making an impression. When Hollywood movies moved away from women's films, and actresses were allocated to girlfriend/wife roles, Hollywood misused a lot of great talent (Romy Schneider comes to mind).
      And funny youshould bring up "Junie Moon" ...I saw that film just once on TCM and I often wonder if I need to give it another look. I think I had a weird reaction to it. Preminger's films around this time had this really bright, flat, TV movie look (Such Good Friends, Rosebud) and it threw me. So many online seem to love it so maybe one day I'll check it out again without expectations.
      Thanks a heap for commenting and of course for your kind words. Glad to hear you enjoy this film, too!

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  3. I haven't seen this Preminger film, but I was struck in your description by its similarity to several other Preminger movies that displays similar tropes or themes. One is Angel Face, which also has a father-daughter dyad with incestuous overtones; and that pair also has to deal with a third party, the father's second wife, who, like Deborah Kerr's character, seems to be the only adult in the room. Then there's Laura, which deals with what could be the 1940s version of the jet set (before jets existed), with its portrait of the New York City cocktail circuit and its rich, shallow lifestyle (Preminger, who lived in NYC, is quoted as saying that he knew this class of people very well, and that they were NOT a nice bunch). There's also his later film Bunny Lake is Missing, which has another incestuously tinged familial couple in the brother and sister (which, from what I understand, was not in the original novel). I'm not a big exponent of the auteur theory, but it's fascinating to see how a director's concerns do keep popping up in his films in different ways. And Preminger was certainly attracted to material that could cause a stir (such as Anatomy of a Murder). That does seem to be playing out in Bonjour Tristesse also.

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    1. Hi GOM
      Excellent connection you make between the themes of so many of Preminger's films! I think all artists (even the hacks) unintentionally reveal aspects of themselves through their work. Since Preminger was more selective about his projects than most, it's not too much of a stretch to find a thread of similar interests or themes running throughout the films he was drawn to.
      It certainly doesn't hurt your point that the films you've mentioned are at least ones I've seen (save for "Laura" which I've never made it all the way through).
      Very thought provoking observation! Thank you for commenting!

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  4. Wow. You totally nailed this one. Bravo, or whatever they say in France.
    --Joe Gage

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  5. Ken,

    What sorcery is this? The DVD of Bonjour Tristesse arrived in the mail yesterday and I was planning on watching it this evening after today's Thanksgiving festivities are over. I just discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago and I have been limiting myself to only a post or two a day. (I found it while looking for info on The Last of Sheila) You definitely have a quality over quantity thing going on which is both satisfying and frustrating.

    I am fascinated by the little biographical details you drop in here and there. I'm a little bit younger than you, born in 1961, but after a decade as an army brat we settled in Palo Alto when I was 11. I was a movie-mad kid and saw many of the films you write about on their initial releases. I was going to movies all over the Bay Area and I probably even saw you during your stint at the Alhambra way back when. I like reading about someone who was discovering movies at the same time and in roughly the same place as I was. It's a little bit like reading about me.

    I've been rewatching a lot of the films from the 1970s and 1980s you have posted about and I really appreciate your insights but even more I like the way you approach movies like Night Watch and Jesus Christ Superstar with an open mind and, even more importantly, an open heart. It's easy to dismiss movies like this these days, or treat them with a mocking attitude but your snark-free commentary is a welcome respite from a too-cynical online film culture. (And I say this as a recovering cynical jerk.) I also love the fact that Xanadu had such a huge impact on your life. It reminded of Noel Coward's line, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is." It's reminder that joy, like water, will find its own way in.

    I'll let you know what I think of Bonjour Tristesse.

    Michael

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    1. Hi Michael!
      Boy, that IS a coincidence! Especially considering I was going to write about another film up until the very last moment.
      I'm happy you happened upon the blog and I thank you for what is music to a writer's ear: that my words in some way reflect a reality you can relate to. Your having grown up in the Bay Area and knowing many of the local theaters is very interesting. You are close in age to one of my friends in high school I still stay in touch with (he was a freshman when I was a senior). He was younger, but our moviegoing experiences and tastes are very similar.
      It's my personal experience, of course, but I can't think of a more exciting time to discover movies than the late-60s and 70s. A lot of loony movies came out of that time, but a many truly fascinating films as well.

      I love the Noel Coward quote and the attendant understanding you have for my particular philosophy when it comes to movies. Anything that take sup two hours plus of your life qualifies as an experience-not a time killer...how movies make you feel is as valid a point of discussion as anything relating to their content or construction.
      I hope your experience with "Bonjour Tristesse" is a good one! Thank you for a very flattering and kind comment.

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    2. Ken,

      I think you're right about the late '60-'70s being a great time to discover movies. There was just so much variety on hand. In the 1960s you had the last gasp of old Hollywood, which for some reason I associate with roadshow musicals. I remember seeing Dr. Dolittle, The Happiest Millionaire and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in roadshow engagements and loving the overture and intermission, which I thought were very sophisticated. And of course there was New Hollywood in the 1970s. But there were also midnight movies, which weren’t always the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and revival houses. When I was in high school downtown Palo Alto had three revival theatres and three first run theaters, which almost always had double bills, so I always had something new to watch, or at least something I had never seen before.

      But I don’t recall Bonjour Tristesse ever being revived in the 1970s. After seeing it for the first time, my impression is that it is a weirder movie than I expected and that it seemed to be unmoored from its time. As you mentioned, Cecile was unlike any other late 1950s film teenager. And the running joke with the maids (maid?) Albertine, Leontine and Claudine, along with details like Elsa's odd hats and the bicyclist joining in the street dancing gave the color section the whimsical feeling of a romantic 1930s comedy. But David Niven's behavior, as you mentioned, echoed those dreary '60s sex farces, which were in Niven's future. And the relationship between Raymond and Cecile at times came very close to crossing the line from intimate to icky. The matching shirts tied at the navel that Niven and Seberg wore early in the film were almost too much of a muchness for me. Was the father or the daughter the fashion copycat? I’m glad you posted a screenshot of the shirts because the image was as disquieting to me as I recall. So, oddness everywhere.

      But much of the movie was magical, almost like a fairytale. The colors were almost too vivid for real life in the South of France section while the shadows were too deep in the Paris section. And then there was the twist that the evil character was the stepdaughter and the not the stepmother. The part where real life intruded on the fantasy, when Anne heard Raymond and Elsa canoodling was devastating. Deborah was magnificent in that scene. So, I really enjoyed the movie and thought you did a great job in your essay and screen caps of illuminating the movie. I wonder if Cecile ever passed her test on Pascal and Spinoza?

      Michael

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    3. Hi Michael
      Glad you came back to fill us in on your "Bonjour Tristesse" viewing experience. Of all you observations, i was most struck by the reference to the evil stepdaughter and not the mother. I'd never thought of that, but it IS a neat twist on our expectations.
      Its true that there is something about the look of the film (the vibrancy of colors and that gorgeous locale) that has the feel of unreality.
      And I'm glad you mentioned Elsa's outrageous hat collection. The fashion sense of this movie is impeccable. Although I know what you mean about the father/daughter costume twinning, which I hope was an intentional creep-out calling attention to Raymond's immaturity and wanting to be more of a pal or brother to Cecile than a father.
      Thanks, too, for the little bio bits regarding what you recall about moviegoing in the 70s, especially the roadshow attractions. That's one experience I missed- although my parents took my older sister to see "Sweet Charity" when it played roadshow, the rest of us had to wait to second-run (I guess my folks didn't want to pay all that money and risk having any of fall asleep in those reserved seats).
      I so enjoyed reading your observations on "Bonjour Tristesse." Let's see if I'll telepathically wind up writing about the next film you acquire. Thanks!

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  6. I second your assessment Ken.
    I didn't see 'Bonjour Tristesse' until a few years ago when a New York revival house screened the digital restorarion. Like you, I was knocked out by the look of it -- some of the best wide-screen camerawork work ever -- and the performances.
    Niven & Kerr are wonderful and you can see Seberg getting ready for her "Breathless" breakthrough.
    Geoffrey Horne was one of the most strikingly handsome young actors of the 1950s but I think I read somewhere that he wasn't crazy about Hollywood and switched over to teaching at the Actors Studio for most of his career. He certainly chose his few film parts well -- this movie and "River Kwai" have been very durable.
    I run hot and cold on Preminger. I like his visual pizzazz but so many of the movies are so overblown. I did enjoy seeing "Anatomy of a Murder" again recently and "In Harm's Way" is one of the few John Wayne movies I've seen more than once.

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    1. Hi Joe
      I've encountered many people who seem to have discovered this movie rather late. I don't seem to recall it being on The Late Late Show much when i was growing up, and I never heard of it making the revival theater rounds. Terrific then that you had the opportunity to see it on the big screen.
      I knew nothing of Geoffrey Horne until having to Google him for this piece. And you're right about his moving into teaching (although I don't know if I can recover from learning Adam Sandler was one of his students. I mean, who would have thought Sandler studied to be in a Sandler film?).
      I've never seen "in Harms Way", but Preminger's work is definitely problematic at times. He can be so good, and then movies like "Hurry Sundown" and "Rosebud" are pure jawdroppers. Thanks so much, Joe!

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  7. Hi Ken,

    Wonderful essay on this film. I really need to rewatch it, it's probably been a decade since I saw it when I was trying to catch up on some Jean Seberg films after reading the gut wrenching story of her life. Up to that point I'd only seen her in Airport (where I love her despite that scarifying wig), Breathless, Pendulum and (heaven's above!) Macho Callahan so I had some work to do.

    This was probably the best of the lot but by the time I got to it a certain ennui had set in after the lumbering Paint Your Wagon, disastrous Saint Joan, mediocre Kill! Kill! Kill! Kill! and a couple of equally undistinguished programmers had worn me out and I wasn't particularly swept away by it.

    I do remember the music as being lovely along with the cinematography and I love Deborah Kerr through she was moving into her more grand and if not exactly icy than a bit more constricted period. She was always class personified but in her peak years their was a slight kittenish element to her character that thawed her out but disappeared as she moved towards the sixties.

    Preminger has many fine films on his sheet. A miracle in a way since he was a nightmare for most of his performers and crews. He was more variable than some of the other great directors but just when you would have thought him finished by turning out the rock bottom Skidoo he turned around and made the lovely Tell Me You Love Me, Junie Moon although what followed that was a series of disasters.

    Aside from the obvious undisputed classics like Laura and Anatomy of a Murder Fallen Angel, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Bunny Lake is Missing and Angel Face are all fantastic films. While Margin for Error, The 13th Letter, Daisy Kenyon, Advise and Consent and Whirlpool are interesting if flawed. He made a hash of Forever Amber though the clothes, sets, Linda Darnell and George Sanders save it from total failure.

    I also have a big soft spot for River of No Return although objectively it's not that great of a film and neither Marilyn Monroe nor Preminger wanted to make it. It played endlessly when I was a kid, I think it was the Movie of the Week more than any other film, and one of my aunts and uncles would watch it whenever it was on so if we were visiting we were allowed to stay up and watch it too! Funny how memory adds luster to movies whatever their shortcomings.

    Thanks for inspiring me to give this one another look!

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    1. Hi Joel
      Sometime you come up with the best descriptive phrases (Seberg's "scarifying wig" in AIRPORT)!
      You really have me beat when it comes to having seen more of Seberg's filmic output- I don't know that I ever heard of Macho Callanhan, short of forgetting it when I read the various bios of her life. I think her tragic and troubled real life was far more compelling than any film role, but until I catch up with some of her European work, BONJOUR TRISTESSE is how I like to remember her.
      I like your sharp observations on the evolving style of Deborah Kerr (the woman I encountered in those awful sex comedies is nothing like the Kerr I'm discovering in some of her earlier films). Similarly, you reflect the consensus opinion of many who think Preminger had his ups and downs, but was never a director you could pin to a single genre.
      Your expressed fondness for JUNIE MOON makes me want to check it out again. And I wasn't aware he was responsible for Daisy Kenyon, one of the few Crawford films I found to be a chore to sit through.
      And of course, I like your memory association with RIVER OF NO RETURN. There were several films that always seemed to be on TV when I was growing up, and so I know how a happy memory can add a sheen to a otherwise lackluster movie.
      Thank you for another knowledgeable contribution, and I'm pleased you enjoyed the post.

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  8. Thank you for another elegant review. This is one of those movies where I have nothing but praise for it so it's difficult to write about it coherently. I love all of the performances and am happy of the love Mylene got from you. I still have to single out David Niven, because this feels like the quintessential Niven performance. He was cut from a very specific cloth and found a niche to play it.

    Watching this movie feels like going on vacation - I can feel the Riviera sun on me. The scenery and costume design are simply divine. This plays nicely as a double feature - albeit a very sad one - with another movie based on a Sagan novel: Goodbye Again, with Anthony Perkins and Ingrid Bergman. Really, the black and white scenes of this movie feel like a straight predecessor to that one.

    - Callie Wanton

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    1. Thanks, Callie!
      Like you, I find movies I have nothing but praise for to be SO much more difficult to write about than uneven films or ones I totally want to trash (the most fun and easiest writing there is). You run out of superlatives and adjectives and you tend to hop from topic to topic, risking sounding like you're simply gushing all over the place.
      I agree this is a very quintessential David Niven role (outside of a tuxedo and tweeds, I had no idea he had such a nice physique!), perhaps more accessible to me because it's not a romance (per se) and, in that his character is not intended to actually charm us, he seems to reveal more layers than usual to this particular suave character. He is so incredible in the black and white scenes. Every line and gesture of false frivolity has a"I'm dancing as fast as a can" feel to it.
      I've never seen the film "Goodbye Again," but your relating it to this film has sold me...I'm going to check it out. I'm glad to hear this is one of your favorites. I may have been late to the party, but I've watched it many times. Like you say, watching it feels like going on vacation! Thanks!

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    2. I think you'll like Goodbye Again, please let us know your thoughts on it later. As a hopeless Anthony Perkins fan, I've been subjected to quite a bit of hopeless muck featuring him, but that one is definitely one of the better movies he is in. He won Best Actor at Cannes for it, for a graceful and fairly subdued performance.

      - Callie Wanton

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    3. I second the recommendation for Goodbye, Again. Ingrid Bergman is heavenly in it and Perkins very good plus there is the bonus of the divine Jessie Royce Landis as Tony's mother.

      The only downside is that Yves Montand is the other star. That might not be a deterrent for some but except in Wages of Fear I find him a stolid insufferable lump of nothing.

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    4. Well, yes...Yves Montand is hard going for me in most circumstances, but I'm hoping your mutual enthusiasm for the other virtues of the film will dull the sting. Or in Montand's case, sting the dull.

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  9. Hi Ken,

    I tried watching this movie a few years ago, and while I don't remember much about it, I do remember feeling that it was a "should" watch. After all, the cast, the colors, the design, the "mature" subject matter--they all added up to a should-watcher, but truth be told, I'd have found something like "Beyond the Forest" a lot more fun.

    Actually, I'd forgotten what a gorgeous film it seems to have been. The costumes, the color, the composition; all gorgeous. But Otto Preminger movies are a mixed bag for me. Plus, you know the toxic fan relationship you wrote about in your review of "Misery?" I think I have one with Jean Seberg. You see, I only want to see her in "Breathless" and won't accept that she ever appeared in anything else. I'll never forget her walking along the street hawking her English-langue newspaper. That's the Jean I want to remember. :)

    Thanks again for your review.

    Sincerely, Allen (Gumm)

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  10. Hi Allen
    I have so many classic movies on my "should" watch list, it's not funny. A Mamie Van Doren movie I find time to watch, "Breathless" has eluded me for decades. You all make it sound wonderful, however. And it's actually very cool that the Jean Seberg of that film is how you prefer to remember her.
    The broad consensus concerning Otto Preminger is that he is a mixed-bag, and liking one of his films offers no guarantee of being able to enjoy any of his others. I no longer remember why it took me so long to get around to see BONJOUR TRISTESSE, but I know I wasn't expecting much, and then i was bowled over.
    I hope when one day I DO get around to seeing "breathless", I have a response similar to all of you here who have expressed such a fondness for it. I'm glad you felt comfortable expressing your indifference to a film I liked so much, in the comments section, if there are too many raves, I think folks with opposing opinions are reluctant to express them. So, thanks for contributing to the balance here, Allen! Much appreciated.

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  11. Hi Ken,

    I was just coming on to write about "Tristesse" only to find not only that I'd already done so, but had received a welcome reply from you, to boot.

    I'm glad that others feel similarly about the film, "Breathless." But when you wrote Mamie van Doren, did you mean Jean S.? Not that there aren't some van Doren "classics" worth watching. In fact, if you've not seen them, I'd recommend "Girls Town," along with "High School Confidential."

    While the former is IMO a masterwork (featuring as it does Gloria "I Married a Monster from Outerspace" Talbot and Mel "Words and Music" Torme), "High School" is not far behind (featuring as *it* does a soon to be "Riff" in "West Side Story" but here playing the nephew of Mamie on whom she has "designs," Mr. Russ Tamblyn). Both brought to us by filmdom "genius" Albert Zugsmith.

    If you've seen either or both of these gems, would love to get your "take" on them.

    Thanks and all the best,

    Allen

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    1. Hi Allen
      I'm glad you came back, even if only to discover you already been here! I think I should have used a semicolon or something in that sentence referencing Mamie van Doren. The point I was trying to make is that there are so many classic films out there I have yet to see (and claim to never have time for), yet when a van Doren film is available, I'll watch it in a hot second. It was a commentary on how my baser instincts can take over: "Breathless" or "Girls Town" presents me the option of camp over culture, and I invariably choose the former.
      I have never seen "High School Confidential," but a few months back I did write about "Girls Town" a favorite from when I was a kid. It really is a genre masterwork, with some of the oldest-looking teenagers on film until "Grease."
      I'm glad you've been enjoying the blog, and I've enjoyed receiving your comments!

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    2. Thanks, Ken. And yes to "Girls Town" having some of the oldest looking teen-agers ever committed to celluloid. And I must say I don't know when I've ever read a more persuasive argument for choosing camp over culture than in what you wrote. A "hot second," indeed! :)

      I don't know how I missed you writing about "Town," since I thought I did a search for it and did not find it. I will try again.

      BTW, about "Tristesse," I meant to comment last time about one of the photos featuring David N. and la Seberg in what appear to matching halter tops, or whatever they might be called.

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    3. Hey Allen
      Here's the link to the "Girs Town" post. So impressed you're a fan of it!
      http://lecinemadreams.blogspot.com/2016/05/girls-town-1959.html

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