Sunday, March 13, 2011

Favourite Films, Bonjour Tristesse

Apologies for bringing you another favourite film post so soon after the last but as I have recently watched 'Bonjour Tristesse' I wanted to post about it whist it was still fresh in my mind. 

Bonjour Tristesse produced and directed by Otto Preminger in 1957, adapted from Françoise Sagans novel, published in 1954, written when she was 18, became an overnight sensation.

Cécile (Jean Seberg), is a spoilt, precocious seventeen year old living with her wealthy, Parisian, bourgeois, widower father, Raymond (David Niven), the two adore each other, however Raymond is a charming, somewhat shallow playboy, who does not take anything too seriously, rather than discipline Cecile he has sucked her into his superficial world.

Cecile and Raymond are holidaying in the South of France, with Raymond's current playmate Elsa Mackenbourg (Mylene Demongeot) and are all having a very jolly time.  Raymond receives a letter from his deceased wife's best friend Anne Larson (Deborah Kerr) a sophisticated, coolly beautiful Paris fashion designer, saying she is coming to stay, Raymond remembers at the last minute that he had invited her and rushes off to the station with Elsa to meet her, Anne turns up by car, with only Cecile to greet her, she is rather shocked to discover that Elsa is also staying.  And thinks about leaving.

Meanwhile Cecile has found romance with a young man called Philippe (Geoffrey Horne), whom she is contemplating losing her virginity with.

Anne decides not to leave and joins in with holiday frolics, it soon become apparent to Cecile and Elsa, that Raymond has set his sights on Anne and is going all out to seduce her, culminating in his leaving Elsa and Cecile at the local Casino and driving off into the night with Anne.

The next morning, over breakfast Raymond and Anne announce their engagement to Cecile, at first Cecile is happy for them, she respects and admires Anne.  The viewer at this point senses that both Raymond and Cecile want some kind of stability and depth in their lives, which the sensible, down to earth Anne can provide.

However after Anne catches Cecile and Phillipe, in a passionate embrace down at the beach hut, things take a turn for the worse, Anne tries to be a Mother to Cecile and treats her like a child, trying to instil some discipline into her, Cecile resents this and then hatches a plot to drive Raymond and Anne apart...

I first saw this film when I was around seventeen and as I was a bit of wild child I was firmly behind Cecile, now I have watched it years later, my opinions have changed, although I understand Cecile, I am rooting for Anne, I just wish she had handled things a little differently.

The film was slated by the critics of the day and still is to a certain extent, the New York Times review of the film was particularly scathing, Jean Seberg particularly came under attack:

"the actors seem incompetent or uncomfortable in his role. Jean Seberg as the centre of attention is a well-shaped but callow girl who reads her lines and takes her positions as if she were a misplaced amateur. David Niven is vapid as the father, with some thoroughly wretched things to say and do, and Deborah Kerr is in dire straits as the woman—the chic Parisian—who is beaten by a child."

To see the full horrific review go here

I do not agree with this at all, the critic obviously hated the story, to me he has simply described the actors playing their roles.

It has not stopped this film becoming a cult classic and it's not surprising, this film like the last one I reviewed starts with the Parisian scenes shot beautifully in black and white and then for the South of France it's shot in glorious technicolour (The Wizard of Oz has a lot to answer for, I am not sure, was this the first film to employ this technique?) The locations are to die for and the wardrobe department excelled themselves, the fifties fashions are glorious, all people who love fifties vintage need to see this film, even MG, who normally only notices cars in the films I make him watch, commented on how great the clothes were, it's all quite gloriously kitch, David Niven looks very camp in some shots and the knotted shirts had us giggling with pleasure.  The film is a joy and I for one love it!

Whilst doing this post I researched Françoise Sagan, the girl who wrote the story at the tender age of 18.  I cannot help but wonder after reading about her, was this autobiographical, or was it fiction?  Perhaps a bit of both.  I do see a lot of parallels...

  Françoise Sagan and Jean Seberg, on location, shooting the film

Sagan was born in Cajarc (Lot) and spent her early childhood in Lot, surrounded by animals, a passion that stayed with her throughout her life. Nicknamed 'Kiki', she was the spoilt youngest child of bourgeois parents - her father a company director, and her mother the daughter of landowners. Her family spent the war in the Dauphiné, then in the Vercors. She failed the entrance examinations to the Sorbonne in 1953. Though notorious all her life for her extravagant lifestyle, she would later attend school there but without graduating.

Her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness), was published in 1954, when she was 18 years old, and it was an immediate international success. It concerns the life of pleasure-driven 17-year-old Cécile, in particular her relationship with her boyfriend and her adulterous, playboy father. The novel allegedly influenced the Simon and Garfunkel song "The Sounds of Silence," the first words of which, "Hello darkness", echo Sagan's title Her pseudonym was taken from a character ("Princesse de Sagan") in Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time).


Sagan's characters became something of an icon for disillusioned teenagers, in some ways similar to those of J.D. Salinger. During a literary career lasting until 1998, she produced dozens of works, many of which have been filmed. She maintained the austere style of the French psychological novel even while the nouveau roman was in vogue. The conversations between her characters are often considered to contain existential undertones. In addition to novels, plays, and autobiography, she wrote song lyrics and screenplays.

In the 1960s, Sagan became more devoted to writing plays, which, though lauded for excellent dialogue, were only moderately successful. Afterward, she concentrated on her career as a novelist.

Sagan was married twice: to Guy Schoeller (married 13 March 1958, an editor with Hachette, 20 years older than Sagan, divorced June 1960) and to Bob Westhof (a young American playboy and would-be ceramicist, married 10 January 1962, divorced 1963; their son Denis was born in June 1963). She took a lesbian long-term lover, fashion stylist Peggy Roche, and had a male lover, Bernard Frank, a married essayist obsessed with reading and eating. She added to her self-styled "family" by beginning a long-term lesbian affair with the French Playboy magazine editor Annick Geille, after she approached Sagan for an article for her magazine.

Fond of traveling in the United States, she was often seen with Truman Capote and Ava Gardner. On 14 April 1957, while driving her Aston-Martin sports car, she was involved in an accident that left her in a coma for some time. She also loved driving her Jaguar automobile to Monte Carlo to gambling sessions.

In the 1990s Sagan was charged with and convicted of possession of cocaine.

At various times of her life, Sagan was addicted to a number of drugs. She was a long-term user of prescription pills, amphetamines, cocaine, morphine, and alcohol. When the police came for an inspection of her house, her dog Banko showed cocaine to them and also licked the cocaine. Sagan told the police, "Look! he likes it too."

Her health was reported to be poor in the 2000s. In 2002 she was unable to appear at a trial that convicted her of tax fraud in a case involving the former French President François Mitterrand, and she received a suspended sentence. Françoise Sagan died of a pulmonary embolism in Honfleur, Calvados, on 24 September 2004 at the age of 69. At her own request she was buried at her beloved birthplace, Cajarc.
In his memorial statement, the French President Jacques Chirac said: "With her death, France loses one of its most brilliant and sensitive writers - an eminent figure of our literary life."

The book and the film are available here and here.

The wonderful opening scenes featuring Juliette Greco

Text Source for Francoise Sagan, from Wikipedia


  1. I remember watching this film ...far too many years ago...and enjoying it immensely for the picture it painted. For once, a film which respected the text.

  2. I read the book when I was the same age as Francoise Sagan but have never seen the film. By the look of those wonderful stills it's something I really must do.
    Fascinating post, I'm always astounded by the amount of research you put into every post, it must take hours. xxx

  3. Another to add to the to-watch list! Sounds like it's worth it for the costumes as much as anything else. The hat in the pedalo picture is utterly glorious!

  4. Oooh that looks wonderful! I'm off to order a copy. I can't believe I've never seen this. Hope you've had a great weekend xx

  5. Oh I haven't seen this in years!! I remembering adoring it then - clearly I need to see it again to see if I like you have changed my opinions. I think Bonjour Tristesse carried through Sagan's life with such a sad and premature ending.

  6. I have never seen this film, I do not care what the critics say, if you like it I know it is good. I stayed up all night watching the silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc. This film sounds like the perfect escapism antidote to the snow which continues to fall.
    I have not been writing much as I am painting my "summer" home and have just inherited a black lab named Winston.
    Please know that while I have not commented on every post, I have read and enjoyed them all.
    X David

  7. Merci, Merci, Merci! I have been wanting to see this film FOREVER but have not been able to find it!! I am eternally grateful ~ I already have my weekend planned out to watch and today is only Monday! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  8. Never apologise for such a lovely post, I love her, I love her hair many a time i have considered having mine like that so short its beautiful .. I did it and realised it was her that as so beautiful and not her hair ...
    I will definitely watch this.. Sorry i have not been over as often trying to improve this again xx


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