Tuesday, October 28, 2014
"Sundays and Cybele": 1962 French tragedy based in unfounded suspicion of a man befriending an orphan girl
“Sundays and Cybele” is a tragic New Wave drama, filmed in black-and-white Cinemascope in 1962 by Serge Bourguigon, based on the novel Bernard Eschasseriaux, “Les dimanches de la ville D’Avray” (“Sundays in Ville d’Avray”, a Paris suburb).
The central character is a former pilot Pierre (Hardy Kruger), who is shown doing bombing missions over Vietnam in the late 1950s. At the time, it was called French Indochina, before the United States took over the responsibility for defending Vietnam from communism, which would provide a major episode in my own life (the draft). He has reason to believe that, in the fog of war, he has killed a Vietnamese child, and the guilt destroys him when he returns home. Years later, the deaths of civilians from bombings would become a main point of protests against the US war in Vietnam, especially the bombing, most of all under Nixon.
Pierrre has a low-key girl friend Madeleine (Nicole Courcei), and is not getting far in the relationship. He comes out of himself when he sees a little girl Cybele (Patricia Gozzi) being left at an orphanage by a disinterested father. He starts seeing the girl every Sunday and pretends to be her father. She says that when she is 18, she will marry him (he is 18 years older).
Madeleine finds out about the “relationship” and tells a real suitor, a doctor Bernard (Andre Ourmansky), who becomes suspicious of Pierre’s intentions and tells police.
A climactic a tragic encounter occurs in the woods at night, after Pierre climbs a tower to find a toy (with a little echo of Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”). Police shoot him, and then the girl screams the famous line that ends the film, “I am nobody”.
The DVD from the Criterion collection (the film originally belonged to Sony and Columbia) contains a modern interview with the director, now in his 80s but very articulate. He says he wanted to keep the classical music score (including Bach, Albinoni, and Respighi, with original music by Maurice Jarre) non-conspicuous, but I thought I heard the theme from the Liszt “ad nos” at one point.
The character Cybele (or Francoise) might be compared to Eppie in "Silas Marner", the George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) novel I read in tenth grade, where Silas, the miserly weaver, befriends a child. The film would seem to have a lesson for Russia (and former satellite countries) that have horrific orphan crises, where kids brought up in them become criminals. Yet the leadership (Putin) believe that the kids have to be protected from "foreign" and "western" (and especially LGBT) parents.
The film won “Best foreign language film” in 1962. It was released in November (right after the Cuban Missile Crisis) when I was a patient at NIH, and the tragic story reflects the paranoia of the times.
Wikipedia attribution link for drawing of Sorbonne