Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse is a story of love and betrayal, a film which loudly proclaims that a virtuous life is one built around structure, loyalty, and hard work. Set primarily in the French Riviera, Bonjour Tristesse is centered around seventeen-year-old Cecile, a spoiled young woman whose lived a life of exuberance with her playboy father, Raymond, whose shown little interest in getting remarried, enjoying the freedom of single life and the carnal pleasures that accompany it. Spending the summer on vacation, Cecille and Raymond are accompanied by Raymond's girlfriend, Elsa, whose looks outweigh her intellectual acumen. When Anne Larson, a successful designer, arrives in their seaside villa after being invited by Raymond, things begin to change for Cecille, as Raymond begins to fall in love with Anne, bringing structure and responsibility into young Cecille's life. Afraid of Anne's way of life spoiling her fun, Cecile begins to grow envious and enraged, devising a diabolical plan to separate the two lovers through deception, a plan which inevitable leads to tragedy and emotional ruin for both her and her father. Told primarily in flashback, Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse opens in Paris, introducing Cecille as a character who is a constant state of depression, a woman who is haunted by the failures of her past, unable to feel any sense of happiness in her current state of misery. Told completely through the lens of this character, much of the film is told via flashback, with Cecille narrating this story of jealousy and ultimately betrayal that took place on the French Riviera. Bonjour Tristesse is a story about the importance of virtue, responsibility, and personal drive, with Anne being a woman who brings a higher sense of morality to these two characters, unwilling to accept their pleasure-seeking as an acceptable way to go through life. With Anne becoming a motherly figure, a responsible woman who reins in Raymond's carefree lifestyle, she is greeted by Cecille with animosity, as the young woman's world is flipped upside down by this complete reversal in attitude by her paternal figure. Enraged by being forced to be something she is not, and viewing Anne as an obstacle that stands between herself and her father, Cecille sets out for revenge through deceitful practices, too naive to understand the grave and unimaginable consequences of her actions, and the torment it can cause, not only to Anne, but also her father who seems to be genuinely happy after finding Anne. Cecille's selfishness causes this tragedy, with her inability to let anyone else into her father's life being the core reason, and this is what causes Cecille so much torment in present day, as she must now life with that fact that she herself destroyed her father's potential chance for happiness. The tragedy of Anne's character, directly caused by the jealously and rage of Cecille, makes it very clear that Otto Preminger's film supports Anne's lifestyle more than that of Raymond or Cecille, yet the way the film scathingly deconstructs self-indulgence and excess as a bad thing does deserve criticism, as it opines that there is a right way and wrong way for people to live life. It's a judgmental film in this sense, pushing the idea that a structured and hard-working lifestyle is virtuous and needed for having a fulfilling life. Simultaneously, the film finds little good in the lifestyle of Raymond, a character whose more interested in living a carefree life of exuberance, one where structure and societies' preconceived notions of what is proper are shattered by his carefree ways. Pleasure is a bad thing in Otto Preminger's film, and while one can't deny that Bonjour Tristesse rightfully skewers Cecille's jealously-driven selfishness, its attacks on pleasure and its self-assured nature of telling the audience the proper way to live is off-putting, to say the least, though certainly a product of its time. Make no mistake though, this is a film about Cecille's fall from grace, and Otto Preminger delivers a structure that is wholeheartedly about capturing this through the way the story is told. Structurally oscillating back and forth between the present and the past, Bonjour Tristesse visually captures the emotions of our central character through its visual aesthetic. While the opening scene, the present, is shot in stark black and white photography which is cold and oft-putting, the past on the French Riveria is presented in bright, lavish color, with the vivid nature of the aesthetic encapsulating Cecille's youthful exuberance, before so much went so wrong. Preminger's direction is nuanced by far from over-bearing, with possibly the high point of the film coming towards the end of the film when Cecille's plan succeeds. When Anne catches Raymond with another woman, Preminger's camera never leaves her side, keeping the sexual nature of what Anne is witnessing off screen and up to the viewers imagination, intent on exhibiting the pain and torment of betrayal felt by Anne. A well crafted story about virtue and the destructive nature of selfishness, Otto Preminger's Bonjour Tristesse is a fascinating, albeit forceful study of the importance of responsibility and structure in life.
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