Urban Cinefile
"I took a thriller storyline and told it with the stylistics of a horror film. "  -- James Wan, director of Saw.
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In 1954, 19-year-old Françoise Sagan (Sylvie Testud) shot to fame with her first - and controversial - novel, Bonjour Tristesse. Flamboyant, scandalous and undisciplined, Sagan lived her life at the edge of excess. She won and lost fortunes at the roulette table, bought and crashed superb sports cars, drank, danced, snorted cocaine and partied, leaving a trail of lovers - male and female - in her wake.

Review by Louise Keller:
Getting a sense of Françoise Sagan, novelist, playwright, screenwriter and lover of excess is almost a suffocating experience. Filmmaker Diane Kurys's biopic of the French icon that lived life fearlessly yet feared living without love takes us underneath her skin. We hear her thoughts about life, love and writing yet there is so much material covered, it often feels as though the film is a stone that skims over the surface. It might have been a more satisfying and emotional experience had Kurys concentrated on certain parts of Sagan's life, instead of trying to represent it all.

The story quickly jumps from the present to 1954, when the 18 year old, waif-like Sagan with the gamin haircut and passion for animal print clothes, has her first novel Bonjour Tristesse, published by Julliard. It is this outrageous literary debut in praise of sadness whose teenage heroine's journey includes love, philandering and sex that propels Sagan to instant celebrity. She lives life as if she were riding a giant wave, oblivious to danger and without considering the consequences. Husbands and lesbian lovers are part of the commune-like living in which the free-spirited writer lives, surrounded by parasites and flatterers. With a disdain for money ('Rather than set you free, money drives you mad'), she earns it and spends it - be it at the casino or on the booze and cocaine that seem to follow her everywhere.

It's a wonderful role for Sylvie Testud, who embodies the writer of words she calls 'minor middle class music'. Sagan is not portrayed as a likeable woman, in fact, it is the disdainful way she treats everyone in her life (from her brother to her lesbian lover and son), that distances us from her. While we may have little sympathy for her, her inner voice prompts intrigue with analogies about love and writing ('The one I love loves me for who I am; writing is like having a dangerous affair'). How can we not react when she describes her husband going upstairs 'with an Audrey Hepburn lookalike, younger than his scotch'? The performances are faultless and we feel as though we are in Sagan's inner circle. It is not a comfortable place to be and Sagan's selfishness, impulsive decisions and bad behaviour ultimately become tiresome as the tragedy of her final years play out.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
She was outrageous, in a self centred sort of way, hence the moniker the (fame forgiving) French gave her: the charming little monster. The great thing about biopics of artists (like Basquiat [1996], Pollock [2000], etc) - not to mention musos and performers - is that you can see their work. By contrast, biopics of writers - unless they are Shakespeare, Dickens, Dostoyevsky or such - rely on the audience knowing their works since they can't be shown. The audience has to know and love their works well to be interested. I was aware of Françoise Sagan as a teenager in Europe, but even so, I find this film really problematic. We see the little monster, but where is the charming?

Putting aside the fact that she's not likeable, I am certainly interested in her as one of the influential writers of her - and my - generation. The problem with this film is that it tries to puddle-jump her life in a series of many chapters that, ironically, combine to deliver an incomplete picture of the person. Rather like being in manual car driven by someone new to the idea of using the clutch to change gears, the film lurches from scene to scene, often without dramatic reason or story cohesion.

The good things about it are the performances; Sylvie Testud has one of those faces you recognise from French films and can't quite locate; she has made some 60 of them, including the 2007 biopic of Piaf, La vie en rose, in which she plays Momone. She is surrounded by wonderful actors like Jeanne Balibar as Peggy, one of her enduring lovers, Pierre Palmade as close friend Jacques Chazot ... and many more. But, sad to say, the film leaves us wishing we could get involved somehow. Her mannerisms are irritating (no doubt true to life) and her talent is talked about but we never experience it - certainly not in the snippety narration.

We see her burn away her life and many friends (what did they like about her?) but there is scant exploration of her personality or her writing, despite the narration in her voice which becomes laden and unhelpful. There is little that appeals without understanding how her writing (slapdash by her own account) impacted her mostly young readers and fans. Selfishness combined with creative talent is a destructive force is the take away; perhaps that's the moral of the story then.
Published first in the Sun-Herald

Email this article

Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

(France, 2008)

CAST: Sylvie Testud, Pierre Palmade, Jeanne Balibar, Arielle Dombasle, Lionel Abelanski, Guillaume Gallienne,

PRODUCER: Diane Kurys

DIRECTOR: Diane Kurys

SCRIPT: Diane Kurys, Claire Lemarechal, Martine Moriconi

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michel Abramowitz

EDITOR: Sylvie Gadmer

MUSIC: Armand Amar


RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes



© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020