Fresh Off the Farm.
In 1956, director Otto Preminger plucked Jean Seberg from her Iowa home to star in his production of “Saint Joan”. It was not a success, but he had faith in Jean and cast her as the lead in his next film.
Bonjour Tristesse was directed by Preminger from the novel by Françoise Sagan. In the United States, the year of its release (1957), the film was referred as being mediocre, boring, and disappointing. It was judged a failure. However, the French critics came to its defense.
Adapted from the book of the same name, which had been a succès de scandale for it’s twenty-year-old author Françoise Sagan the previous summer, the story takes place in Paris and in the south of France, on the Mediterranean coast. The Parisian scenes, filmed in black-and -white, serve as a framing device, opening and closing the film while the central part is filmed in sparkling colors, It’s a masterpiece of the director of photography Georges Périnal.
The central character in the film is a teenage girl, Cécile (played by Seberg), who loves her father (David Niven), perhaps, a little too much. During a long, hot summer, her father has fun with a succession of mistresses. Cécile has no problem with these beautiful women and she talks and laughs at their expense with her father.
Deborah and Tragedy
However, when Anne (Deborah Kerr), an old friend of her mother arrives, Cécile realizes that the relationship between her and her father is different: Anne and her father have fallen in love. Devastated, Cécile decides to end their relationship by any means possible.
The following summer, Céline and her father return to Paris, preparing for their usual vacation in the south of France. This time, something doesn’t seem right.
Truffaut and Goddard adored Seberg.
Unlike their American counterparts, the French critics, among whom were the brightest stars of the New Wave, in particular Truffaut and Goddard, were full of praise for the film singling out Seberg with her haunting eyes and iconic boyish haircut. They adored her.
The Opening and Closing Scenes.
Incipit begins at a fancy Parisian restaurant. Seberg’s character has just accepted an invitation to dance with a very handsome and eligible young man. There is a small jazz band playing with Juliette Greco as the chanteuse. The vision of an independent, sensually elegant and furiously modern woman imposes itself on us. Detached from her partner, she looks at us with her deep gaze, breaking the fourth wall, as her narration begins. And her voice reaches us. Implacable. It’s a stunning beginning.
Prefigures Glenn Close
The final scene is dramatically opposed. Seberg sits facing her bedroom mirror removing her makeup. We see a natural woman uncovering her face, removing the mask that society imposes. As her tears fall it becomes a heartbreaking scene of truth. We feel like we are imposing on something, embarrassed to be there. The scene prefigures Glenn Close’s tour de force in the closing scene of “Dangerous Liaisons”.