Wealthy hedonistic widower Raymond (David Niven) and his spoilt daughter Cécile (Jean Seberg) live a carefree summer existence in their villa on the Cote d’Azur until the arrival of Raymond’s old friend Anne (Deborah Kerr), whom he impulsively decides to marry. When the responsible Anne tries to rein in Cécile and her wild ways, the precocious adolescent plots to drive Anne away with tragic results…
This restoration breathes new life into director Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Françoise Sagan’s scandalous 1954 French novel. With its Hollywood pedigree and Riveria postcard setting shot in dazzling CinemaScope, you’d be forgiven in thinking it might be all style over substance, but in putting his faith in his discovery, Jean Seberg (who became the darling of the New Wave and gives a career best performance here), Preminger crafts a masterful father/daughter tragedy.
Seberg’s Cécile may have the face of an angel, but she is as rootless and callous a character as her playboy father (played by an athletic, tanned Niven with caddish perfection), and the terrible damage that she inflicts on his summer romance with Deborah Kerr’s sensible Anne is mesmerising to watch as it plays out to a shocking climax. Meanwhile, the film’s final scenes, set in a monochrome Paris, only highlights the incredible sadness (tristesse) that is rooted in both Cécile and Raymond. This cool and stylish golden-age masterpiece is definitely ripe for rediscovery.
Digitally restored by Sony Columbia’s Grover Crisp (who masterminded last year’s Lawrence of Arabia restoration), Bonjour Tristesse opens in the UK on 30 August at BFI Southbank and at selected cinemas nationwide.