Geoff Andrew on Bonjour Tristesse

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13 August 2013

The BFI's Head of Film Programme discusses their extended run of a sun-soaked restoration.

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There were quite a few reasons we were keen to revive Bonjour Tristesse at BFI Southbank. First - and probably least relevant and important - it was something of a favourite film for certain members of our programming team.

More to the point, we had seen the new restoration (by Sony Columbia's Grover Crisp, the maestro behind superb revivals like Lawrence of Arabia) and knew that the film's Riviera settings, shot in luscious colour and Scope by the great Georges Périnal, looked as wonderful as they must have when it was first released 55 years ago. But it was also felt that the movie was ripe for rediscovery. 

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Jean Seberg in Bonjour Tristesse

Not only does the story - an adaptation of Françoise Sagan's novel - about an almost unnaturally intense relationship between a girl and her father feel surprisingly modern, but director Otto Preminger's expert handling of their fraught, fragile and destructive encounters with their various lovers is as cool, clear-eyed and non-judgemental as if he had made the film only yesterday. (If only more of today's filmmakers were as adept and rigorous at avoiding the pitfalls of sentimentality!). 

And then, of course, there are the performances of the perfectly cast stars: a slightly starchy Deborah Kerr, a charming but determinedly superficial David Niven and, best of all, Jean Seberg as the precocious, calculating but thoughtlessly scheming protagonist.

There were a great many fine films made in Hollywood in the 50s, which combined glossy entertainment with properly adult intelligence, and Preminger's film - certainly one of his best - is a wonderful example.

Bonjour Tristesse opens at BFI Southbank and selected cinemas in the UK from 30 August