Otto Preminger’s Bonjour, Tristesse

A tale of three women, if not more

in French literature on screen
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Otto Preminger’s 1958 screen version of Françoise Sagan’s first novel, Bonjour, Tristesse (Hello, Sadness, published four years earlier) was intended to be an important entrant in the distinguished series of “A” budget adaptations of serious fiction and drama that were turned out (or in this case financed) by Columbia Studios in the 1950s under the general direction of studio head Harry Cohn Transnational adaptations like Preminger’s Tristesse can be seen negatively, as acts of untoward cultural appropriation even when the obtaining of rights is perfectly legal and the filmmaker, as in this case, can be credited with a sincere and in many ways surprisingly effective effort to be “faithful” to the source’s cultural milieu and values, as this chapter aims to demonstrate. It is important to note that this was not the case with Preminger’s film, probably because of his own considerable reputation as Euro-American (a Hollywood director with a continental sophistication), and also because the film itself (and its young star) became instantly popular in France. Otto Preminger, with great finesse and respect, brought this melancholy tale to the screen, and in his creative wisdom he had the poem transformed into a haunting song, unforgettably sung on screen by one of France’s most talented chanteuses, who adopted it as one of her musical signatures. In so doing, he went beyond adaptation proper to limn unforgettably the contours of the existentialiste spirit of Sagan and her generation. One would well argue that no French-produced film of the period even attempted to do the same.

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