Otto Preminger's memorable drama Bonjour Tristesse is based upon a famous novel written by French author Françoise Sagan. The book was a sensation when it was published in 1954, at which time Sagan was only 18 years old. The title means "Hello Sadness," which gives you a rather strong clue that this is not exactly an upbeat film. It is, however, quite compelling, featuring a superb cast and gorgeous cinematography which was shot on location in France.
Studio: Twilight Time/Columbia Pictures
Rated: Not Rated
Program Length: 94 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English 1.0 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English SDH
The street I walk is sadness
My house has no address
The letters that I write me
Begin, "Bonjour Tristesse"
My smile is void of laughter
My kiss has no caress
I'm faithful to my lover
My bittersweet Tristesse
Otto Preminger's memorable drama Bonjour Tristesse is based upon a novel written by French author Françoise Sagan. The book was a sensation when it was published in 1954, at which time Sagan was only 18 years old. The title means "Hello Sadness," which gives you a rather strong clue that this is not exactly an upbeat film. It is, however, quite compelling, featuring a superb cast and gorgeous cinematography which was shot on location in France.
The film opens with a beautiful black & white shot of Paris. Cecile (Jean Seberg), the 17-year-old daughter of a wealthy widower playboy, is driving her artist boyfriend Hubert (Jeremy Burnham) to his first exhibit. It is clear that Hubert is infatuated with Cecile, but she does not share his enthusiasm. Indeed, she stays at the exhibit for only a short time before driving home. It is there that we meet her father, Raymond (David Niven). Raymond has a new lady friend, an aspiring actress named Denise (Elga Andersen), and they are heading out to attend a fashionable party. At the party Cecile is introduced to Jacques (David Oxley), a handsome young man who asks Cecile to go with him to the races the following day. As they are dancing and listening to Juliette Gréco sing the title song, Cecile thinks to herself "And after the races, he'll take me to dinner and dancing again, and on Thursday to the tennis matches and on Sunday to the country. What a waste of time, dear Jacques. What a hopeless waste of time."
It becomes apparent that Cecile is deeply distressed over events which occurred a year earlier while she and her father were vacationing at their villa on the Riviera. Most of Bonjour Tristesse is then told in flashback, with all of the Riviera scenes filmed in color and all of the present-day scenes in black & white. The color, of course, represents a happier time when Cecile was a carefree teenager, while the black & white scenes convey the sense of darkness which has come over her.
Raymond's female companion for the Riviera vacation is Elsa (Mylène Demongeot), a beautiful young blond who loves to have a good time but is temporarily paying the price for spending too much time in the sun. Elsa and Cecile have become good friends, but their vacation is disrupted when Raymond receives a letter which states that Anne (Deborah Kerr), a fashion designer whom Raymond had once romanced, is coming for a visit. It seems that Raymond ran into Anne some months back and invited her to come to the Riviera, an invitation which he promptly forgot about.
When Anne arrives she is initially devastated to find that Elsa is there. However, she quickly gets over it and decides to stay. Elsa is actually happy to see Anne and initially does not regard the older woman as competition for Raymond's attention. However, Raymond soon finds himself drawn to Anne, and the situation comes to head at a party when Raymond drives off with Anne, leaving Elsa behind. This merely sets the stage for the real story, which is about Cecile and Anne. Cecile has known Anne for many years and has mixed feelings about her. Those feelings begin to harden when she senses that Anne is insinuating herself into their lives, lives which will never be the same again unless Cecile does something about it.
Otto Preminger was not particularly known for subtlety and Bonjour Tristesse is perhaps a bit obvious at times. Nevertheless, a day after watching the film I was still thinking about it, so it clearly resonated with me. A literate and occasionally witty script by Arthur Laurents certainly helps. Jean Seberg, who was just 19 when the film was released, sparkles in the Riviera scenes as the fun-loving and then defiant Cecile, and she effectively portrays a sense of Cecile's deepening depression in the Paris scenes (which in some respects portend the star-crossed life which Seberg went on to live before her untimely death at the age of 40). The final shot of Seberg in the film is astonishingly moving. David Niven is excellent as the dapper and charming but ultimately shallow Raymond. Mylène Demongeot is very engaging as the fun-loving Elsa, and Deborah Kerr is perfect as the straight-laced woman who, as she approaches middle age, believes that she has found love and can tame both her man and his daughter.
As is the case with all Twilight Time releases, this Blu-ray is a limited edition of 3,000 copies. Click here for ordering information.
Sony has provided Twilight Time with another first-class Blu-ray transfer. The cinematography by Georges Périnal is spectacular. The color scenes are sharp and vivid, and the shots of Cecile diving into the sea are so inviting that you feel like jumping in with her. The black & white scenes in Paris are equally fine, with excellent shadow detail and inky black levels. The film is nearly 55 years old but it is virtually flawless. There is no evidence of any damage or excessive digital manipulation. Film grain is intact and the overall effect is pleasingly film-like.
The 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is obviously limited, but it is clean and clear and could hardly be expected to sound better. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and every word of dialogue is understandable. Although all of the audio is directed to the center speaker during the feature, the isolated score track by Georges Auric also sends the music to the front speakers. The isolated score track includes sound effects.
Twilight Time Blu-rays typically have little in the way of extras, but this one includes a brief but interesting interview of Françoise Sagan by Drew Pearson, then a noted American newspaper columnist. The interview is in black & white and concludes with the original domestic theatrical trailer for Bonjour Tristesse. The only other extra is the isolated score track.
The on-screen catalogue of Twilight Time releases shows that three titles are scheduled to be released in December: Beloved Infidel, The Blue Lagoon, and Lost Horizon (1973 version).
Included with the disc is an insightful and informative 8-page booklet written by the always-superb Julie Kirgo. She tells the interesting back story of how director Preminger insisted upon using Jean Seberg even though the inexperienced actress has been panned for her debut performance in Saint Joan. As Seberg put it, "I have two memories of Saint Joan. The first was being burned at the stake in the picture. The second was being burned at the stake by the critics."
The single disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
Bonjour Tristesse is a moving soap opera which also is an intriguing commentary on the lives of the idle rich. It fortunately avoids falling in to the trap of being overly melodramatic and is recommended for its high production values and superb acting.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: November 13, 2012