Film review: Bonjour Tristesse (PG)

 

Otto Preminger's 1958 adaptation of François Sagan's novel seems now both of its time and ahead of it. Jean Seberg, radiant with the gamine sexiness Preminger had used to advantage in his film of Saint Joan, is just the right mixture of spoilt and insecure as Cecile, a teenage girl whose machinations lead to doom.

Shuttling between the present (Paris in monochrome) and the past (the French Riviera in colour) the film is Cecile's recollection of an idyllic summer that turns to ruin when her playboy father Raymond (David Niven) falls for Anne (Deborah Kerr), the first grown-up woman he's ever loved.

The design of the film – Raymond's white beach house, Anne's Givenchy sack dress – looks as fresh as paint, though the casting of David Niven feels way off the pace. Niven looks great in a tux at the casino, but he is all light-hearted self-deprecation when what's required is a slyness and self- absorption to match Cecile's – it would also make sense of the incestuous undertones in their relationship. Preminger's use of space and colour, however, is masterly, and he seems prescient in identifying Seberg's own tragic helplessness.

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