Reading to Reels: Bonjour Tristesse

bonjour tristesse poster
Based on the then scandalous novel of the same name by Françoise Sagan, Bonjour Tristesse (Goodbye Sadness in English) tells the tale of Cécile played by Jean Seberg, a young French girl vacationing along the French Rivieria with her bon vivant father, Raymond (David Niven). Cécile is only 17, and like a lot of jeune filles, thinks she knows everything. She is indulged and indolent, and has left school after doing poorly on her exams. She fills her days with swimming and tanning, and her nights dancing at decadent clubs often with a dashing older man by the name of Phillipe.

Cécile is very close to her dashing father, some might same disturbingly close. And she tolerates his flighty young girlfriend, Elsa (Mylène Demongeot) who at the time is nursing a bad sunburn. Cécile pretty much wants her father all to herself.

Shortly, arrives Anne Larsen (Deborah Kerr), a friend of Raymond’s late wife. Anne is a fashion designer and quite cultured and well-bred. Cécile is not happy with Anne’s arrival. She thinks Anne’s stay will be the end of her care-free summer amusement. Cécile inklings aren’t exactly off the mark. Anne thinks Cécile needs to cut back on some of her fun and frolic, and buckle down and study so she can improve her marks at school and do better on her exams. Granted, Anne has a point; school should be taken very seriously. And speaking of getting serious, Phillipe wants the summer fling he is currently enjoying with Cécile to become a bit more permanent. Not surprisingly, Cécile won’t have any of that. She just wants to have her bit of amorous fun with Phillipe.

It isn’t long before Cécile’s father, Raymond, roving eyes turn towards the more sophisticated Anne. And Elsa is cast aside. But instead another knotch in Raymond’s bedpost, Anne becomes a much more. Cécile is not happy about this. And she vows to break them apart.

With a screenplay written by Arthur Laurents Bonjour Tristesse is directed and produced by Otto Preminger who directed such film classics as The Man With the Golden Arm, Laura and Carmen Jones. Bonjour Tristesse is filmed in both black and white and in color. To me, the color conveyed the blithe of Cécile’s summer on the French Rivieria whereas the black and white speaks of the tragedy yet to come. I did find it odd that other than the supporting cast, the two adult leads, Raymond and Anne, were played by two Brits and Cécile e was portrayed by the very-American Jean Seberg. I must also say I was delighted to see French chanteuse, Juliette Gréco playing herself at a nightclub frequented by Cécile. All actors are quite convincing in their parts, and in the final scene Miss Seberg says more with a look on her face than a page of dialogue could ever do.

Retro Review: Bonjour, Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

51+u6c95UmL._SL500_SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Published in 1954, when French author Françoise Sagan was a mere 19-years-old, Bonjour, Tristesse tells the story of Cécile, a well-off teen girl who has been kicked out of university and is now vacationing with her widowed father Raymond along the French Riviera. Joining them for a long summer along the gorgeous blue waters of the Riviera is Elsa, Raymond’s mistress. Cécile doesn’t actively loathe Elsa, but she does find her to be a bit gauche and noisy. But being widowed since Cécile was a little girl, Cécile expects her father wants to have fun and by now, she is used to her father collecting women and then doing away with them once he has grown bored.

Cécile, like a lot of teen girls, is blossoming into womanhood and is trying to figure out who she is. She often comes across as an old soul, and at other times, a petulant child. She hangs out at casinos with her father and his older friends, and has an affair with Cyril, a man in his twenties. But she also pouts and rebels when she is expected to study so she can continue her education.

Cécile expects to have a carefree summer, spending time on the beach, dancing and drinking at nightclubs, spending time with her father and his friends, and yes, learning the ways of horizontal love with Cyril. But then someone joins this scenario, Cécile’s father’s long-time lady friend, Anne.

Anne is everything Elsa is not. She is closer to Raymond’s age and has an impressive career in fashion. She is sophisticated, wise and refined. And soon Raymond turns his affections towards her, and it is not long before he asks Anne to marry him. Cécile is not too happy about this. Though she has long admired Anne for her grace and intelligence, she thinks of Anne as an interloper, not welcomed into the world Cécile and her father have created for the two of them. And when Anne counsels Cécile on how she should behave with her lover, Cyril, and implores that she devotes more time to her studies, Cécile can’t help but get touchy. Who does this vieille dame think she is?

What seems to be an over-riding theme for Cécile during this summer is a sense of loss, everything from the loss of her father to Anne (and his affection) to the loss of her sexual innocence to Cyril. And though Cécile tries to put on a brave face, you sense her vulnerability, her melancholy, hence the title of this book Bonjour, Tristesse-Hello, Sadness, is very approprié.

Cécile learns a great deal at this tender age. She learns that the adult world can be very confusing, but she also learns about herself. She doesn’t know everything, but every day she is learning more.

Bonjour, Tristesse is a slim novel, pretty much novella. It is an exceptionally well-written piece of literature that captures the timeless essence of what it is like to be a teenage girl. Though this book was published long before I was born, and I spent my summers at the mall and the movie theater, I found myself relating to young Cécile thoughts, ideas and opinions. Yes, I was once so very young; I thought I was so sophisticated but non, I was still such an unformed girl.

Sagan writes in a spare, yet detailed style I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the descriptions of idling along the French Riviera, the stolen moments of love making with Cyril, frustrated moments with the adults that structure one’s life and in the end, Cécile’s quest to find meaning in a confusing world. Bonjour, Tristesse is stand-out in the world of literary debuts.