Tim Purtell
January 09, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Bonjour Tristesse

Current Status
In Season
Deborah Kerr, David Niven, Jean Seberg

We gave it an A-

With her pixie hairdo and tomboy sturdiness, Jean Seberg was the antithesis of a lacquered Hollywood starlet. In Otto Preminger’s melodrama, based on Francoise Sagan’s novel, she plays the impulsive, spoiled teen daughter of a widower playboy (Niven), whose romance with an uptight divorcee (Kerr) during a summer idyll in the south of France leads to tragedy. Preminger fractures the story into a stark black-and-white present and nostalgic Technicolor past — a dramatically effective (and now so au courant) device that’s bolstered by gorgeous tracking shots and splendid acting. And though Seberg was clearly a novice compared to Niven and Kerr, it’s precisely her untrained naturalness that makes her performance so compelling. It’s also impossible to watch her anguished, tear-streaked face in the last scene and not think of her own troubled life and suspected suicide at 40.

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