Cecile is a teenager who lives with her father Raymond, a wealthy playboy. The live a carefree and fairly shallow existence in the clubs and ritzy society of Paris. The two of them are unusually close, attending the same parties and collecting the same friends. But even though she is decades younger than Raymond, Cecile has already lost the pleasure behind such a lifestyle.
Cecile then tells the audience in flashbacks the story behind her current malaise. The previous summer she and her father vacationed on the Riviera with Raymond’s girlfriend du jour, Elsa. Despite the fact that Elsa is Raymond’s love interest, she is also young and immature enough to serve as a friend for Cecile, who finds absolutely nothing wrong with her father’s way of life. Cecile is on the path to becoming exactly like her father, when her deceased mother’s best friend Anne arrives. Though Raymond already has one girlfriend in residence, he sees nothing wrong with an invitation to a woman he has always been interested in pursuing.
Anne arrives and at first is appalled by the insincerity and vapidness which characterize both Cecile and Raymond. But slowly, her influence begins to change both of them for the better. Cecile is at first thrilled to have a woman she can look up to until she realizes what it might cost herself and her father. Her actions soon change the course of their lives.
Bonjour Tristesse is an Otto Preminger film. Preminger is a director who is hit or miss with me. I really love some of his films and dislike others. This is one which will add to the love tally. It is unexpected, quirky and tragic; an eclectic mix which actually works well together.
One of the most unique things about Bonjour Tristesse is that we start the story in current time filmed in black and white. But the flashback scenes which comprise the majority of the movie are filmed in glorious color. Some viewers might find this distracting, but I love it as a plot device. When we first meet Cecile she is already jaded and the black and white scenes help portray her disenchantment well. In contrast, the color scenes are bright and happy. Even though she has been raised unconventionally, the world is still a carefee and innocent place for her. Plus, I just really enjoy the beauty of the French Riviera in full color. It’s gorgeous and exactly the way one pictures vintage France.
But once she plots her course of action concerning Anne, she not only loses that innocence, but also finally learns the difference between right and wrong. This is mimicked in the final present black and white scenes, where she is living out the consequences of her actions.
Cecile can hardly be blamed for her carelessness as it has been well-modeled for her by her father who she calls by his first name. Their relationship can either be viewed as sweetly close or slightly disturbing. It is his irresponsibility in teaching Cecile the value of integrity and care for others that leads to the tragedy in this story. It is fitting that they both must live with the consequences of their selfish behavior.
Preminger cast Bonjour Tristesse perfectly in my opinion. David Niven often played similar playboy roles and was considered quite a charmer himself in real life. So, it is no stretch for him to play the carefree Raymond. Deborah Kerr is not one of my favorite actresses, but is perfect in the role of the mature and responsible Anne who loves Raymond and his daughter enough to challenge their toxic lifestyle. She recognizes that though it might be fun, in the long term it will poison them. And it turns out that she is right.
Playing the young Cecile is Jean Seberg. She perfectly captures Cecile’s naïve innocence which eventually grows into the bleak acceptance of her actions. She is delicately beautiful and waif-like. As a viewer I felt sorry for her, because she never has the opportunity to discover the values of responsibility, unselfishness and care for others until it is too late.
Bonjour Tristesse is a morality tale and one which is surprising. Such tales are often told to warn against malicious and deliberately cruel behavior. This one prefers to warn the viewer that careless even reckless disregard for others is often just as dangerous. With today’s motto of, “just do what makes you happy”, it is a sobering reminder that sometimes our happiness can come at the expense of others. Even though this does have a tragic ending, it is actually an enjoyable film to watch for the most part, thanks to the acting and the gorgeous cinematography. I encourage you to check it out.
Where to Watch: DVD, Rent on Apple, Google Play.