Bonjour Tristesse the 1958 film is from a novel by Françoise Sagan and was published when she was only 18. This stylish film is one of Otto Preminger’s best. The French New Wave has influenced him in his opening shots, but only on a visual level. This is pure Hollywood on ever other level. The melding of the two styles works perfectly and begins by setting the stark mood in stunning black and white widescreen shots of 1958 Paris. The present is painted in shades of grey and silver,
where Cecile portrayed by the beautiful Jean Seberg moves aimlessly thought her pointless upper crust Parisian life. Only when she encounters her father David Niven later in the evening does the past seep in on the edges of the Cinemascope frame in vivid color and finally takes over moving us from the present to last summer on the Riviera. The device is used several times as we move from past to present and finally at the end of the film it creates a stunning effect once you know what suddenly happened to Cecile and her father last summer. The thing that changed everything forever and allows Preminger’s camera to linger in the last frame of the film on Jean Seberg as she wipes away the make-up from her perfect face.
David Niven is perfectly cast as Raymond the aging playboy father of Cecile. He has the cool style and humor of a man who can’t commit to any woman and treats his daughter like a playmate rather than his child. His particular talents as an actor are that he seems to be playing the “David Niven” character in most of his films but here in `Bonjour’ as he often does in so many roles he makes a nice little twist on the “character”. He catches you off guard to wrench his and the audience’s emotions and prove once again what a good actor he is.
The French actress Mylene Demongeout is delightful as Elsa, Ramon’s summer plaything. She thinks everything that happens to her is “Brilliant!” when in fact most of the time it isn’t at all. She is “Brilliant!” in the role.
At first Deborah Kerr also seems to be playing her role by rote but it is just a ruse to set us up for her fall. As does Niven she too digs deeper in to her persona as Anne Larson and carries the film to its surprise ending. She is a joy to watch as a film actress and here she is particularly wonderful.
Jean Seberg who with her short cropped spiked hair is the heart of the film. The emotional lens through which the audience experiences the unfolding story. In certain shots reminded me of Sharon Stone in her youth, Seberg had that kind of blonde goddess look that Miss Stone possesses. She was only 19 when she made the film and in the hands of her director she presents us with a sensitive and spellbinding performance as Cecile. She is at once a teenager in turmoil and a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman. This is a delicate high wire act that the young Miss Seberg executes with charm and elegance. She is fascinating to watch and just right for the role.
The subject matter is even today a little shocking and indeed this is one of the films of the 1950’s that put the sin in Cinemascope. Despite the restrictions of the day or because of them filmmakers of that time were challenged in ways they are not today. Challenged to be inventive and insinuate things that we were supposedly too innocent or too naive to know happen in the world. Those filmmakers knew that the imagination is more vivid and titillating than what they might show. It was good that the antiquated production code of the Hayes office crumbled in the 60’s but with its passing we lost a whole vocabulary in film. Here is a wonderful example of the meeting of the Movies and 50’s cinematic innuendo that serves this delicate story to a tee. I think “Bonjour Tristesse” is `Brilliant!’
I find that Cecile is at times very grown up and at others a typical teenager filled with angst and petty jealousy. What perfume would she sport? Well for a young girl like Cecile who wants to be all grown up but still has a taste for sweeter fragrances only one will do. Le Dix by Balenciaga. Created in 1947 this Aldehyde Floral (Some call it a Chypre Floral) by nose Francis Fabron is a mature yet playful fragrance. Joyful and yet there is a dark sexy undertow to it. It contradicts the expectation one has for an aldehydic perfume by being more grounded and earthy than one would expect. And then there is a vanilla fruity ambiance that meets with the florals to make it into a scrumptious invitation to come in closer, close your eyes and brush your lips next to the ear of the wearer. You almost want to lick the skin when smelling it. If Cecile wore it there most definitely would be a Lotiaesque air about her yet without guile. Like when a little girl puts on her mothers perfume just to smell grown up.
Perfumer Franics Fabron not only created Le Dix (The Ten) but is most famous for creating for Givenchey L’Interdit and for Nina Rici L’Air Du Temps. Three masterpieces of the late 40’s and early 50’s. Each of them should be rediscovered and enjoyed L’interditi and L’Air du Temps can be found in newer forms but you have to go on a hunt for vintage Le Dix.
It opens with top notes of aldehydes, coriander, peach, bergamot, and lemon. this is the fruity young opening that would capture Cecile’s attention. The bubbly sweet champagne cocktail that she might sip on the terrace overlooking the French hills tumbling into the Mediterranean Sea. With the rising heat of the southern afternoon the bubbles subside and the mid notes arrive, Lavender, a dry and very grownup Oris Root, (Lush and rich this adds a dusting of powder to the fragrance) and it mixes in with rose, ylang-ylang, and that very French note of Lily of the Valley. Here the fragrance moves away from the playful and toward a slightly more austere glamour. But his is just foreplay to what comes in the magnificent dry down. Pure dark sensuality and danger are introduced with a dose of Civet. The exotic woods of Peru Balsam, Sandalwood and layered over with a rich thick amber and then the huge vanilla and tonka bean bring in a frothy swirl of delectable deliciousness. Finally, around the 10th hour is settles into a lingering warm skin scent bolstered by white musk and vetiver.
Le Dix is a ten for me, a classic that I feel works as well today, as it did in 1947. If you like a floral that borders on a chypre with a fruity fresh edge then may I recommend it? It will work well for most women from 18 to 81 and in some cases, myself included for men with a daring and delicious sense of fun. Wear Le Dix and you will be brilliant.