review for Bonjour Tristesse on AllMovie

Bonjour Tristesse (1957)
by Craig Butler review

Considered a fascinating study of decadence and possessiveness by some and soap operatic trash by others, Bonjour Tristesse is at the very least a stylishly-directed, gorgeously shot film that is immensely entertaining. Jean Seberg was generally dismissed by critics upon the film's release; it's true that she seems uncomfortable (and occasionally miscast) in many places, but her performance is actually more than satisfactory and occasionally shows glimpses of the talent that would reach fruition with Breathless. Much more fully realized performances are supplied by David Niven and Deborah Kerr. Kerr is quite good; if her performance is a trifle lacking in surprise and spontaneity, it still produces a feeling of warmth for the character that is essential to the film's success. Niven is in top form, oily and lecherous yet with the charm necessary to make his character's success believable. Preminger's use of color for the flashback sequences is less impressive than it was originally, but it does its job, and his sure hand is evident in practically every cunningly-composed widescreen frame. He is particularly adept at hinting at an incestuous relationship between Seberg and Niven without ever resolving the question, creating a tension that infuses the entire film. The film also makes wonderful use of its French Riviera locations and designer gowns, resulting in a sumptuous visual feast. Whether Tristesse's "message" is shallow or profound is a matter of debate and personal taste, but that message has been delivered in a gorgeously wrapped gift box.