[box cover]

Bonjour Tristesse

Based on a popular — and notorious — novel by 17-year-old Francoise Sagan, Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse (1958) is an erotic tease of a movie, a glossy fable of love and longing amongst the idle rich. Opening in stark black-and-white, the film (originally presented in CinemaScope) turns to richly saturated color as Cecile (Jean Seberg) thinks back to the events of her previous summer on the French Riviera. Vacationing with her charming playboy father Raymond (David Niven), Cecile is enjoying a pleasure-seeking life of beachfront luxury with Raymond and his current lover, Elsa (Mylene Demongeot). But the arrival of Cecile's straight-laced godmother Anne (Deborah Kerr) signals the possible end of Cecile's hedonistic lifestyle — Anne doesn't approve of Cecile's relationship with a law student named Philippe (Geoffrey Horne) and she's alarmed to learn that Cecile's failed her school exams, an event that doesn't bother Cecile or Raymond in the slightest. Although the prim, dispassionate Anne disapproves of Raymond's devil-may-care nature, she's attracted to Raymond's undeniable charm and the two become engaged — so Cecile plots to drive the two apart in an attempt to maintain her carefree life with her father. The film's story — so decadent in the late 1950s but tame by today's standards — is presented by Preminger as a beautifully self-conscious cinematic construct. The tightly framed, present-day scenes in black-and-white are intercut with the wide-open, colorful scenes of events happening a year previous to create a sense of both the impermanence of happiness and the vividness of memory. The director uses the broad CinemaScope palette to move actors around each other in an elaborately choreographed dance, creating a palpable tension within the changing space on-screen. The almost incestuous closeness of Raymond and Cecile is established early on, without any dialogue alluding to it — the flashback is begun with the pair lounging in the morning sun in bathing suits, flirting and kissing, then clambering together onto the bed of the late-arising Elsa. Bonjour Tristesse can be watched from two perspectives — simply as a frothy soap about a father/daughter/fiancée love-triangle, or as a fine example of how a brilliant director can make a story richer and more complex through the use of composition, camera movement, and color. Either way, the movie is an engaging and oft-overlooked drama, far better and more sophisticated than most films of the type. Columbia TriStar's DVD offers a beautiful, remastered anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that does justice to this gorgeous film. The black-and-white segments (which were originally printed on color stock, giving them a colder, starker appearance than the usual silver-nitrate prints) are stunning — the Technicolor segments are so richly saturated as to inspire giddiness, underscoring the sybaritic feel of the Riviera location. The monaural Dolby audio (in English or Portuguese) is good enough, if unremarkable. Subtitles in English, French, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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