The French Riviera, Givenchy, Hermes and Cartier all come together beautiful to create the wardrobe for the 1958 film ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ which I saw at the Film Forum yesterday. Indeed if we’re being catty we might argue David Niven’s wardrobe has dated rather better than his acting style.
Luckily there is a little more to ‘Bonjour Tristesse’, which translates for those like me who don’t know French as ‘Hello Sadness’, than it’s panache and location.
It’s interesting for the fact that the male figures in this film occupy the position normally taken by female characters, that of the ornamental and narcissistic.
Indeed Raymond played by the ever debonair Niven describes himself as ‘a vain and silly man’
As such he finds himself a pawn in a power struggle between the possessive daughter, Cecile (Jean Seberg) and the controlling wife-to-be, Ann (Deborah Kerr). It’s a game, which in this case, has tragic consequences as Cecile engineers an affair between her father and his ex, which she cruelly allows Ann to witness. Ann responds by committing suicide, an act that devastates the lives of Cecile and her father, making all of lives pleasures empty and meaningless for them.
As an example of the lengths women will go to in their battle for control over the men they desire, it has no filmic equal.
The fact that Cecile’s relationship with her father is also borderline incestuous, make her actions doubly disturbing.
I haven’t read the book by Francoise Sagan on which the film is based but I very much want to having seen this. In fact in the process of writing this I found the opening line to the novel which sums up the mood that pervades the whole film
‘A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sadness. In the past the idea of sadness always appealed to me, now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I had known boredom, regret, and at times remorse, but never sadness. Today something envelops me like a silken web, enervating and soft, which isolates me.’