Bonjour tristesse by Otto Preminger
Bonjour tristesse (1958) is a neglected masterpiece of American cinema and a film that stands slightly apart in Otto Preminger’s body of work.
As Jacques Lourcelles points out in his “Dictionnaire des films” Bonjour tristesse straddles the two periods of Preminger’s career, the Hollywood films noirs, revolving around subtle psychological studies – often of women – and the big, international panoramic films on historical or political topics. Bonjour tristesse is Preminger’s only film that uses the latter’s formats (Cinémascope and Technicolor) to tell a story that is much more intimate, devoid of spectacle, about a father-daughter relationship and the romantic turmoil of a young woman from the French bourgeoisie, based on Françoise Sagan’s famous first novel.
An exemplary adaptation, the film is faithful to the spirit, if not the letter of the book, but manages to give it a more cinematic form, thanks to the brilliance of Preminger’s mise en scène.
Bonjour tristesse is narrated in flashback, and the monochrome images of Paris at the beginning of the film contrast with the brilliant Mediterranean colours that suffuse the memories of the young Cécile, made old beyond her time by the events shown in the film. The film’s visual beauty, its modernity, the pictorialism (with a subtle hint of Matisse), are all still strikingly effective, and Godard’s Le Mépris – the ever present sea, the car accident – would have clearly not been the same if the young filmmaker had not admired Preminger so greatly.
Among the numerous novice actresses featured in Preminger’s late 50s and 60s films, the magnificent Jean Seberg will remain his most important and remarkable discovery.Olivier Père