JEAN SEBERG AND DAVID NIVEN are a hedonistic father-daughter duo in Bonjour Tristesse, Otto Preminger's 1958 film adaptation of Françoise Sagan's novel of the same name. Both fit, flirtatious and fun-loving, Seberg and Niven as Cécile and Raymond indulge in a life of excessive leisure and liberty, acting at whim with little regard for the characters around them. The two display such behavior throughout the film, which takes place in two distinct parts: a monochromatic Paris in the winter, and a lusciously-colored flashback of the French Riviera in the summer.
The film's main conflict comes in the form of a somewhat serious, prudish Deborah Kerr as Anne Larsen, whose presence in Cécile and Raymond's lives threaten their carefree lifestyle. Cécile, spoiled and selfish, reacts to this threat with adolescent cunning; her schemes resulting in damages far greater than planned.
The events in Bonjour Tristesse are as overly-simple as its characters, described in 1958 by The New York Times as "plainly the creatures of a child's mind that make no sense in a presumably adult film." The novel itself is perhaps partially to blame. Film critic Bosley Crowther further adds that "The lack of discernment on the part of the author is carried over in the film."
But what Bonjour Tristesse lacks in substance, it makes up for with style. Cinematically, Preminger's CinemaScope views of the Côte d'Azur elicits a desire to vacation by the Mediterranean, while his breaking of the fourth wall makes voluptuous appeal of Seberg's gamine beauty. "Whatever Seberg does in Breathless, she's already done in Bonjour Tristesse." Explains director Mark Rappaport in From the Journals of Jean Seberg. "She looks at the camera for long periods of time, with zero expression on her face, with her voiceover accompanying it. This was the first time this kind of technique had been appropriated."
Sartorially too, Bonjour Tristesse offers up plenty of eye candy at the hands of no other than Hubert de Givenchy. From Deborah Kerr's smart, sculptural ensembles, to Seberg and Niven's almost coordinated leisurewear, the costume design not only visually echoes each character's persona, but also serves to add visual interest where profundity is lacking. That Cécile wears her father's clothes is more than cue enough of her inheriting his amoral disregard. That bit at least, I find terribly brilliant.
Bonjour Tristesse, 1958. Directed by Otto Preminger.