Bonjour Tristesse (1958):

The challenge is to portray the subjectivity of Françoise Sagan's novel objectively, and to give a second chance to the fool critics who missed the boat in Saint Joan. Thus, Otto Preminger presents Jean Seberg as teenaged socialite Cecile, off to another high-society soiree in a black-and-white Paris; playboy dad David Niven is her nightly partner for drinking and dancing, yet the Good Life seems oddly doleful as the camera's gaze meets Seberg's, dead-eyed with a tuxedoed dolt on the dance floor. "I'd like to warn him, but he wouldn't understand," she muses, so color suffusions kick in the flashback, a summer interlude set the previous year in the splashy Riviera, and as fateful as Bergman's. The sun-dappled idyll between fun-loving daughter and father, united in plush hedonism, may harbor darker undertones (Mylène Demongeot, Niven's newest fling, calls them "the perfect marriage"), though their frivolity to Preminger is less immoral than amoral, their blissful complacence just a cocoon for a childlike ignorance of the instability of relationships, life and the world. Whether to wear furs or jewels marks the most arduous decision until Seberg's proper godmother, Deborah Kerr, is invited for a few days and ends up as Niven's bride, as well as potential spoilsport for their lifestyle. Told not to see her beau (Geoffrey Horne) again, Seberg rushes up to her room and sticks pins on a doll before chiding herself in the mirror; next, she's tallying up points against Kerr, and decides the woman must go. Pixie Seberg in a red one-piece swimming suit against oceanic blues, the high-angled view of the conga party, the widescreen accommodating Seberg, Niven, and Kerr as the triangle shifts -- Preminger's impressionism, blindly dismissed by reviewers as magazine gloss writ 'Scope but appreciated in France, where it provided budding New Wavers with a few pointers. (À Bout de Souffle is a famous "two years later," though Rohmer, Chabrol and Vadim also took note.) The sadness is one of dawning lucidity, or perhaps the loneliness of "limbo", in any case sublimity in the final close-up, the last of the director's fallen angels and angel faces in tears and facial cream, expressing everything and nothing. With Walter Chiari, and Juliette Greco.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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