The Innocents – Rediscovering ‘Sundays and Cybèle’ / Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray (France 1962 – 110 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - November 26, 2014
The Innocents – Rediscovering ‘Sundays and Cybèle’ / Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray (France 1962 – 110 mins)

A beautiful French drama that has had a revival in recent years, ‘Sundays and Cybèle’ was a huge crowd-pleaser in its day, winning many film awards including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It may have the familiar theme of two lost souls finding each other, but it’s told in a more raw style with unpredictable results.

Haunted by the memory that he may have accidentally killed a young girl during a wartime raid, shell-shocked pilot Pierre (Hardy Krüger) befriends Cybèle (Patricia Gozzi), a young girl who has been abandoned by her father. Quickly forming an unlikely bond, Pierre pretends to be Cybèle’s father and agrees to meet her every Sunday, allowing Cybèle to be free from the orphanage for the day. When Pierre’s nurse and girlfriend Madeleine (Nicole Courcel) finds out, she’s at first shocked, but after following them around she understands that, to Pierre, these Sunday outings are a sort of therapy for him. After telling a doctor colleague; Bernard (André Oumansky), of this unlikely friendship, Bernard informs the police, believing the girl to be in mortal danger from the unstable Pierre.

Although ‘Sundays and Cybèle’ is a beautiful movie, it’s also a tragic story of love and intolerance. The Christmas Eve climax is heart-rending, and although it’s easy to see how this innocent relationship could be misunderstood by the adults around them, the final image of tears streaming down Cybèle’s face while proclaiming that she no longer has a name, is heart-breaking. There is an Art-house feel to the movie at times, with lots of symbolic scenes of trees and ripples in the water.

34 year old German-born star Hardy Krüger, gives one of his best performances as the emotionally scarred war veteran, five years after his star-making turn in the WWII drama ‘The One That Got Away’ (’57). Krüger is at times heart-breaking in his childlike distance from the adult world around him, including his relationship with his devoted girlfriend. 12 year old Patricia Gozzi is remarkable as Cybèle, giving a natural and at times grown-up performance as the abandoned child. Three years later Gozzi would again play a lonely girl befriending an outsider, in the forgotten drama ‘Rapture’ (’65), with Dean Stockwell and Melvyn Douglas. As Pierre’s girlfriend; Madeleine, lovely Nicole Courcel is very touching as the woman who loves him, and who slowly comes to understand the reason for his friendship with the child.

Director Serge Bourguignon made his feature debut here, and although he did an expert job, he has only directed two movies since, including the colourful Brigitte Bardot drama ‘Two Weeks in September’ (’67). The striking cinematography was by Henri Decaë, who later photographed many of Jean-Pierre Melville’s excellent crime pictures. The delicate music was by the now legendary Maurice Jarre, who would win an Oscar that year for his memorable score for David Lean’s epic ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.

A tale of two childlike loners who retreat into their own innocent world, ‘Sundays and Cybèle’ is a forgotten favourite of World cinema lovers, and goes further to reassure me that 1962 is my favourite year in cinema. It’s a wonderfully moving gem with realistic and touching performances by the two outstanding leads.

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