Bonjour Tristesse (1958)

6 12 2008

Well, I really wanted to like this, but I just couldn’t. Sure, the photograph is nice and it is equally enjoyable to see Jean Seberg on screen for an extended amount of time, but unfortunately, this movie is a complete mess. I can’t say I hated it, because well, I really enjoyed it but only on an unintentional level. It is filled with some of the most stilted dialogue I’ve ever heard, and it is all delivered by performers that operate on completely different wavelengths. Seberg’s untrained charm is absent when she’s lined up next to Deborah Kerr, who I hate to say, is overwhelmingly terrible.

It starts out rather promising with little to no dialogue and wonderful black and white(ish) cinematography, but once Seberg’s voiceover starts, it is all downhill. The single most frustrating thing about this film is that it could have so easily been transformed into a masterpiece. The scene with Seberg looking into the camera with an obvious feeling of discontent would have been great, if we didn’t have an oddly upbeat voiceover from her explaining everything that happened. Had a Preminger just made the black and white sections (which only add up to about five minutes total) into a whole film than it would have been so much better. Instead, we get a candy-colored melodrama that is so fake and melodramatic that I have to assume that this film’s fans are viewing it through a subversive lens.

I think it is a bit ironic how this film so clearly wants to sell itself as a character study, when it is really just a completely Hollywood-approved story-driven type of drama. This is ironic because it comes from a time period where directors like Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann, and Nicholas Ray were making “genre” films that were profoundly moving character-driven masterpieces. It only made my hate for this film even more as it seemed like it was superficially more “highbrow” than those films, which it clearly isn’t. Preminger, to his credit, does have an eye for very nice visuals, but shooting in the French Riveira certainly doesn’t hurt.

Early on I thought it seemed a bit like an Antonioni film without any subtelty, which is true but it’s also a bit like an Antonioni film without any bit of interest in what the characters are actually feeling, beyond the very obvious image created by the film’s title. To make it all worse, there’s this completely laughable and  unneccessary thing about how Seberg’s character thinks three and seven are lucky numbers. A dumb touch that is suppose to hold together the film’s final “twist” or whatever. It’ll make me a target of much criticism, but this is a failure. A really enjoyable one, but still, barely respectable.

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3 responses

6 12 2008
Allison

I can complete relate to your review. When I first rented this, about four and a half years ago, I remember that I turned it off and wasn’t able to handle it. So I read the book instead. Francoise Sagan really writes great stuff. So I think it was earlier this year that I gave Bonjour Tristesse another chance and was really amused by it. Maybe give it a few more years? Not that you aren’t mature enough to enjoy it, because that’s not the issue. It is indeed lovely to see Jean Seberg in a film and I think you just have to be in the mood or not care about its over soap-like cheesiness.

6 12 2008
Jake Savage

Well, I enjoyed the cheesiness in a way, but not enough for me to actually say it was a decent film. It was funny, but in the exact opposite way it was trying to be. It may have very well been on MST3K…

6 12 2008
Ed Howard

As you may know, this is one of my favorite films. I can understand reacting badly to the stilted quality of the dialogues and voiceover, but I think Preminger is quite intentionally going for this disjunction between the jaded Seberg of the b&w sections and the carefree, silly, frivolous Seberg of the color sections. For me, it works quite well, and I love how the film uses its lurid, over-the-top style to tell a story that is, after all, a rather moving tragedy — and we know it’s going to be a tragedy because the color/b&w dichotomy is established quite early, marking the bulk of the film as a flashback.

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