Serge Bourguignon’s 1962 Sundays and Cybele is a flat-out masterpiece and one of the best films I’ve seen thus far in 2014. Gorgeously shot (by the great Henri Decae) and delicately directed it’s humanist in the tradition of Jean Renoir.
Pierre (Hardy Kruger) suffers from PTSD. He befriends a young girl, Cybele (Patricia Gozzi), and seems to get better. His girlfriend Medeleine (Nicole Courcel) and other villagers find out and some don’t see the relationship as healthy.
Bourguignon’s style is gentle and pretty. One of his visual motifs is warped reflections. Like this one through a small stone that Pierre gives Cybele-
-or here, in one of the prettiest moments of the film, where Cybele and Pierre watch rippling water mar their reflection-
-and here, where Pierre gets drunk and looks at his boisterous companions through his champagne glass:
There’s also, to a lesser extent, this one, with the fire in the foreground slightly obscuring Cybele’s face:
That last image above always makes me think of Billy Wilder (http://boatagainstthecurrent.blogspot.com/2009/12/quote-of-day-billy-wilder-on-artsy.html). But Wilder’s wrong on this one. Bourguignon is well aware that his male lead has had his own perspective tinged by violence and so placing foreground elements or translucent objects through which to shoot further emphasizes that detachment from the real world.
There seems to be another theme of irises. This early shot of Pierre, shot through a train station gate, very nearly looks like it’s about to be an iris-in or an iris-out, stylized like a silent film. And it’s appropriate: Pierre is a largely silent character:
That circle is repeated throughout. Here, when Pierre wipes frost from a window to watch a horse and rider across the water:
And here, in a shot that is also a good example of Bourguignon’s camera, where either end of the small hut that Pierre and Cybele find in the woods is a circle within the frame:
Bourguignon’s camera does move, and he seems to prefer the floating variety. It’s often motivated – as above, which is motivated simply by Pierre’s movement forward – but it moves slowly, often searching just a little bit. This particular shot, which dollies left and pans right, intentionally loses Pierre. Everything mentioned thus far fits into the same theme: some kind of alienation, or obscuring of Pierre’s character.
Here’s a beautiful moment, again on-theme. As Pierre heads to pick Cybele up from school a truck moves alongside him. For several seconds the side-view mirror takes up more of the frame than Pierre and shows only a rugged wall bouncing along in the reflection:
Eventually it catches Pierre, finding him reflected, and in effect capturing him:
And as a quick last thought, this image reminded me a lot of Sacha Vierny’s photography in The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting: