The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, June 15-21

bonjour tristesse-jean-seberg

Bonjour Tristesse (1958)
Directed by Otto Preminger
“You go to a place, you leave a place.” Such is the hollow existence the carefree bourgeoisie playboys (and girls) lead along the Riviera in Preminger’s adaption of Françoise Sagan’s novella. It’s clichéd, undoubtedly, and not perhaps the subject matter one usually associates with the Austrian auteur, more commonly aligned with the left-leaning epics he would come to produce. Indeed, Bonjour Tristesse marks the end of a phase in Preminger’s filmography, and thus appropriately marks a definitive moment in the evolution of many of its cast members’ personae. Deborah Kerr is the epitomic marm and David Niven a philandering scoundrel (the casting all the more perverse on Preminger’s part considering his character’s paternal relationship to Jean Seberg), sending up the images they had cultivated so well throughout their careers. But of course, Seberg is the center, as blithe Cecile, utterly heedless to the harm her scheming—to prevent her insouciant lifestyle from being snuffed out by the specter of responsibility Kerr brings with her—inflicts on its targets, ultimately resulting in tragedy. Godard took the best elements of Seberg’s performance here for Breathless, namely the buoyancy underlined by self-hatred that we see flashes of (and her haircut), and left the constricting ties to character/plot obligations. This is not to denigrate Otto’s work in Bonjour, as his mise-en-scène reaches something of an apex here, as he groups bodies into rigid formations, often sculpting physical love triangles in the ‘Scope frame, never allowing the exuberant Technicolor to eclipse his lucid grip on the existential sorrow that grips these wayward souls. Eric Barroso (June 15, 1:30pm at the MoMA’s Preminger series)


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