Starring: Jean Seberg, David Niven, Deborah Kerr
Director: Otto Preminger
Running Time: 94 mins
Bonjour Tristesse is a British film about a young woman’s carefree days in a seaside holiday home on the French Riviera, which she spent with her loving father. However, the arrival of a friend of her father’s threatens the undisciplined way of life that she has become accustomed to.
This may have some decent and original directing by Otto Preminger in the era just before the French New Wave, but the story here is seriously empty, lacking in genuine intrigue or thrills at any point, as well as a consistently confused atmosphere between comedy-drama and hard-hitting theatrics.
On the plus side, you’ve got to give Preminger some credit for taking some good risks with the direction. This has the visual style and slickness of films like Breathless and The 400 Blows, and is as such a pleasure to look at. What’s more is that this movie uses a combination of colour and black-and-white film throughout to evoke differing emotions for the characters, and that is a technique that really pays off, giving at least some feeling to the story at times, particularly in the more desperate and depressing parts.
The performances here aren’t too bad either. They’re not stunning, but they’re not unbearable. Jean Seberg puts in a likeable performance as the sometimes annoying Cecile, whilst David Niven is as cool as ever in his role as a rich playboy father. Deborah Kerr, on the other hand, isn’t too impressive, putting too much heavy drama into her role as the elder woman who aims to discipline Cecile, ruining the more pleasurable qualities of this film.
However, that is a result of this film’s biggest flaw: the confused atmosphere. At the start, it seems like a drama, but then it descends into a light-hearted romp, and then abruptly back into a drama, and although that follows the pattern of the plot, it comes off as more confusing and irritating than intelligent.
Breathless was a good film because it was weird, more lightly dramatic, and pretty funny, whilst The 400 Blows sits on the other end of the spectrum as a desperately dark drama. But it’s the fact that those two films know what they want to be that makes them better than Bonjour Tristesse.
There are times here when it is a pleasant watch, however too often is the relatively plain story convoluted by the confused atmosphere, pulling you painfully from side to side between a positive, lighter drama and something much heavier and darker, and as a result, this is not such a great watch for the most part, and that’s why it gets a 6.5 from me.