Bonjour tristesse [1958]

Director: Otto Preminger
Stars: Jean Seberg, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Mylène Demongeot, Geoffrey Horne
Genre: Drama
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 94 minutes

Cool and introspective, Otto Preminger's sleek, stylish Bonjour Tristesse is one of his most understated films. Jean Seberg stars as a spoiled teenager who acts with a high-society sophistication beyond her years, and dapper David Niven is her playboy father, going through young female playmates like socks. Flitting through the French jet set and comparing conquests, they summer on the gorgeous French Riviera, where mature fashion designer Deborah Kerr enters their lives and wins Niven's heart. Seeing an end to her lifestyle, Seberg plots an end to the relationship with equal parts conniving ruthlessness and juvenile prankishness, too self-absorbed to even consider the brutal results of her actions. Told in flashback from a sleek but shadowy black-and-white Paris, the film melts into the vivid Technicolor of memory. Seberg's voiceover narration is arch, but her impish, often petulant performance is perfect, as is Niven's flippant, womanizing bachelor father (Preminger lets their curious, flirtatious intimacy hang like an unanswered question and a nervous subtext). Kerr's middle-aged working woman seems almost puritanical compared to the irrepressible travelers, but under her rules and limits lies an honest concern for a "child" who believes herself an adult. Preminger's camera prowls through the drama just removed enough to be respectful, and intimate enough to get under the characters' skin. Like the best of his dramas, there are no heroes or villains, only complex, flawed, achingly sympathetic characters. --Sean Axmaker

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