BluRay/DVD Reviews

SUNDAYS AND CYBELE (Criterion) 1962

By • Nov 10th, 2015 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

I showed the new Criterion BluRay to an International Cinema class at The School of Visual Arts, bringing in a victim of PTSD first (the school’s esteemed Chair, Reeves Lehmann) to talk about the crippling lingering effects of battle trauma. The students were unanimously moved by the film, as well as appreciative of its visual manipulations of the environment to create the insides of the protagonists’ heads. Remarkably, it is still as affecting now as it was fifty years ago.

Hardy Kruger plays Pierre, a forlorn combat veteran who has been rendered practically immobile by the horrors of war, in particular, the killing of a child while in battle. His devoted, patient girlfriend (Nicole Courcel) is making little headway with him, and it remains for a captivating waif (12-year-old Patricia Gozzi) to draw him back out of his shell. To absolve him of his sins.

Casting was vital. Director Bourguignon wanted Steve McQueen, but after THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE GREAT ESCAPE, that possibility was highly unlikely, plus it almost certainly would have led to personality clashes that the director was lucky to have avoided. Kruger has some of what McQueen would have contributed, so he’s an excellent choice.

But the heart of the piece is Patricia Gozzi, a phenomenal morsel for the camera’s contemplative appetite. She’s lovely to look at, expressive, sensual, mature, gets her lines right whether by cajolery or natural smarts. And most provocative of all, she’s the sexual motivator in the relationship that develops between them. True, she’s too young to understand the full extent of what she’s doing, but clearly (and luckily for her) he’s the child in the mix, and she’s the sexually clueless adult. He never expresses any untoward impulses in response to her romantic come-ons. But the concern about pedophilia exists as an undercurrent. It is the ticking time bomb between the frames. We wait anxiously, just below the narrative surface, for something to go tragically amiss, and in fact it finally does, though not in the form of a sexual liaison between these two innocents.

The filmmaking is simple yet extremely evocative, nowhere more so than in the province of sound design, where the mystery and innocent romance of youth is articulated. I contacted Serge Bourgignone, the film’s director, in France, and asked him how he created the haunting sound of rocks skipping across the surface of a frozen lake, a sound that has stayed with me for fifty years.

His response – “The sound of the stones on the frozen lake is real, just reverberated to create that eerie atmosphere of the misty long shots.” Simple, perhaps, but it’s the thinking behind them which is complex, and the linkage of the sound to the cinematography, which likewise drifts in and out of pre-adolescent reverie.

The supplementals are great. Patricia Gozzi does not look in any way as she once did, but she remembers well, and questions her mother’s thinking in allowing her to play such a provocative part. Bourguignon makes a case for his being blackballed by the ‘new wave’ filmmakers after S&S won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. And Hardy Kruger, in his 80s and, I’m told, very much under cover nowadays due to political activities, recalls the entire process of the film’s creation in such measured detail that I was nearly moved to tears. The young actress had in reality formed a romantic crush on her co-star, and her mother asked Kruger if he could remain available for a few days after shooting wrapped in order to let her daughter down gently. He compassionately complied.

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