Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bonjour Tristesse

Can we have a movie which makes a moral case for hedonism please? I am such a moralistic person (in an anti-fun loving sort of way) that whenever I see a film like Bonjour Tristesse, rather than feeling sorry for any of the characters or having a shock of recognition of the emptiness of my own life, I instead feel an intense deja vu, even schadenfreude. More seriously, I thought Otto Preminger's film was really very good, a masterpiece even. I have wanted to read the original novel of the same name by Francoise Sagan for a long time but never got around to doing it. May be watching this movie will spur me to locate a copy.

In the way it portrays upper class European bourgeoisie Bonjour Tristesse anticipates films like La Dolce Vita and L'Avventura both of which came a couple of years later. It complicates (or dilutes, depending on one's perspective) the social criticism by introducing Freudian elements into the story. I thought it made the film more interesting. It works on both levels - as a specific story about emotionally troubled characters and as a more general sociological critique.

Jean Seberg is fantastic in the main role. What's even better is that she cavorts around in swim-suit in most of the film. Even the generally prim and prissy Deborah Kerr (that is not meant as a criticism, she is one of my favourites actually) shows a lot of skin. That said, I would have preferred if it had French actors. All three feel a bit out of place in the setting.

A nice review here. Incidentally Godard was one of the champions of the film when it first came. He even cast Seberg in his film Breathless so that she could continue to play the same role in it too.


puccinio said...

The funny thing about ''Bonjour Tristesse'' is that when it came out, it was a big success in France and with Cahiers du Cinema. Preminger who was not well known for making these kinds of movies didn't get good reviews on his side of the Atlantic. The reason being they didn't think it was "French enough!" Otto always had a laugh at that.

You should his first collaboration with Jean Seberg, ''Saint Joan'', I just saw it and it's great. A flawed but beautiful film about St. Jeanne d'Arc.

Alok said...

Hehe, and i was thinking it was a little too "french"...

I would love to see Jean Seberg as Joan of Arc though it is an extremely tough act to follow after the footsteps of Maria Falconetti.. even Ingrid Bergman for that matter.

puccinio said...

I would love to see Jean Seberg as Joan of Arc though it is an extremely tough act to follow after the footsteps of Maria Falconetti...

That's like comparing Monet or Renoir(the painter) to Rembrandt and Vermeer. In any case Otto Preminger's film is adapted from G. B. Shaw's ''Saint Joan''(adapted by the way by Graham Greene), while Dreyer though inspired by the great interest in Jeanne d'Arc in the 20's which stemmed after her canonization and in turn inspired Shaw's play, is an entirely different film.

The Shaw play saw her as an intellectual pre-Modern feminist while Dreyer saw her as a Christ figure. Although Dreyer's film as a work of art is superior, Shaw's play is more 20th Century. That's why Preminger was so interested in it. He was not religious at all but he did get Greene who was as Catholic as he was left wing.

Basically, Preminger's ''Saint Joan'' is in no danger from competition by Dreyer since it's perspectives are far apart, the style is also far apart.

Besides Joan of Arc has been perhaps the most artistically represented figure of the medieval age.

Everyone from Shakespeare(who sadly depicted her as she was painted by England...a witch), Schiller downwards have been inspired by her. Mark Twain who was cynical about most subjects wrote positively only about one historical person, her. So as great as Dreyer's film it is, he can't claim monopoly on St. would be un-Christian.

...even Ingrid Bergman for that matter.

Well she had a thing for Joan of Arc. At one stage there were plans for her to star in a film directed by Jean Renoir, who refused because he felt Dreyer's film was definitive. She later played her on stage in Italy which Rossellini made a recording of. I haven't seen it but it apparently was good enough for her.

Interestingly, the part of Shaw's ''Saint Joan'' is generally played by an older actress. So if Renoir had considered adapting that would have been an unbelievable film.