Blu-ray Review: Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Those allergic to subtitles can breathe a sigh of relief. Bonjour Tristesse—despite its French title (which translates to “Hello Sadness”) and setting—is entirely in English. The 1958 film, directed by Otto Preminger from a screenplay by Arthur Laurents, has been recently issued by Twilight Time as a limited edition Blu-ray. As with all of Twilight Time’s titles, Bonjour Tristesse is limited to a production run of 3,000. Once they’re all sold, that’s it—the secondary collector’s market is the only place you’ll find it. I highly suggest grabbing a copy while they’re available. This remarkably provocative film is buoyed by incisive performances by David Niven, Jean Seberg, and Deborah Kerr. It also happens to be gorgeous to look at, with a combination of black-and-white and color cinematography by Georges Périnal.

Thematically, the film explores the empty decadence of the idle rich. Raymond (Niven) and his 17-year-old daughter Cécile (Seberg) live on the French Riviera and don’t seem to do much more than soak up the sun. Cécile couldn’t care less that she is failing in school. Having carefree fun is her only goal. Raymond’s wife, Cécile’s mother, is deceased and more or less forgotten about. An incorrigible womanizer, Raymond plays the field while Cécile cheers him on. His latest significant other, Elsa (Mylène Demongeot), is barely older than his daughter. In fact, Cécile considers Elsa a good friend. Things change when Anne (Kerr), a friend of Raymond’s late wife, visits and becomes romantically involved with the widower.

Bonjour Tristesse cover (191x250).jpgIt should be noted, these scenes—though they occupy the majority of the film’s running time—are actually flashbacks. The full-color Riviera sequences are framed by moody black-and-white “present day” scenes. We know that Cécile is terribly unhappy, but we only find out why during the flashbacks. The narrative unfolds carefully, drawing us into the father and daughter’s lavish life of leisure before getting to the root of why their idyllic lifestyle collapsed on them. Not the least of their problems is the uncomfortably close relationship between Raymond and Cécile. While nothing concretely inappropriate is ever depicted (except, perhaps, their habit of kissing on the lips), it’s clear that their bond goes well beyond accepted norms. Cécile seems happy as long as her father is flitting around from woman to woman. His initially serious devotion to Anne threatens her, leading to series of machinations that send their lives spiraling in an emotionally scary direction.

Preminger takes his time with the story (adapted from the novel of the same name by Françoise Sagan), daring to keep his characters largely unsympathetic. If we feel something, it’s for Anne. She’s really the “other woman,” but not strictly in the traditional sense. Anne is a wedge between the film’s closest couple, her fiancé and his daughter. Believing she can tame the playboy Raymond and instill ambition in Cécile, Anne doesn’t realize just how inconsequential she really is.

Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation is virtually flawless. The stunning color cinematography is rich in realistic color and high in fine detail. Natural grain is present, maintaining the look of the era in which it was produced. The black-and-white segments are more subtly impressive, with striking sharpness and solid black levels. The 1080p image, framed at 2.35:1, is simply a pleasure to take in. The audio is presented in 1.0 DTS-HD MA mono, faithful to the film’s original exhibition format. The dialogue is so clear, you’ll often be able to spot which lines were looped and which are location sound. Music and effects are well integrated, leaving no room for criticism of the overall audio experience.

Extras are customarily light, with the Twilight Time standard isolated score track allowing us to hear Georges Auric’s music in 2.0 DTS-HD. The theatrical trailer is more interesting than the standard montage of film clips, with a canned “interview” with source novelist Françoise Sagan serving as its highlight. The terrifically informative essay in the Blu-ray booklet was written by Julie Kirgo.

Bonjour Tristesse is currently available through Twilight Time’s exclusive distributor, Screen Archives, while supplies last.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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