Winner of an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, director Serge Bourguignon's compassionate drama stars Hardy Krüger as Pierre, a former military pilot psychologically devastated by a wartime experience. Living a detached existence in a Parisian suburb, Pierre begins to perk up when he meets and befriends a 12-year-old urchin (Patricia Gozzi) abandoned by her father. But problems arise when their relationship is misconstrued.
In the 1960s no one doubted that this is a really great movie, if not the greatest of all films about children as real human beings. Still today this view must be widespread, or else no enterprises would have released a DVD dubbed into five languages and subtitles into ten. 12-year-old Cybèle had been abandoned by literally all her relatives and placed in a Catholic boarding school. It is to some extent a random event that she meets 30-year-old Pierre, who had made a crash when he was an air force pilot in the French war against Vietnam. He had lost his memory. But each Sunday he will take out Cybèle, and the nuns like everyone else will believe he is her father. Their promenades along a sea, and whatever else they do together, are wonderful. Other people say they are like turtledoves. During her previous life she never experienced Christmas; she was just sent to bed at 9 o'clock like every other day. Now she will experience her first real Christmas together with Pierre. Unfortunately some other persons interfere and …
A beautiful film, in terms of both images and story. This very sweet - but never sticky -and slightly disturbing story of a platonic 'love affair' between a psychologically damaged, almost child-like ex-soldier and an emotionally abandoned 12 year old girl is deeply moving, honest, and just creepy enough in terms of in nascent sexuality hovering around the edges of the relationship to keep us from feeling too at ease. Shot in gorgeous black and white, with great use of shadows and silhouette, the images are both beautiful and mysterious -- as is the film's central relationship.
Hardy Kruger is excellent as the amnesiac soldier who has the feeling he's done something awful, but doesn't know what, or how to atone for it (we know more, having seen a dream- like flashback of his war experiences to open the film). He is lovable and sad, but we sense there's always a danger this man could lose control and cause damage without meaning to. And Patricia Gozzi is remarkable as the young girl, bringing an almost frightening amount of pain to this hurt character, and never feeling like a kid faking it for a film. There's a complex honesty to her performance combining hurt, innocent joy, emotional need, the first flickers of adult sensuality and manipulativeness, and yet a child's open heart that any seasoned actor would envy.
The film does telegraph where its headed more than once, but somehow it doesn't matter very much. It's the humanity of the telling rather than any surprise twist that makes the film work so well. We root for this odd pair to be able to maintain their bond in the face of a grown up world that doesn't understand how much these two damaged souls need each other and is, as one character puts it, afraid of any love that doesn't fit into nice neat categories. Beautifully made and haunting, it won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1963.
Stupid, stupid, stupid Madeleine! Why didn't she think to go round to Francoise/Cybele's school and talk it over with the nuns after she had seen how well Cybele was bringing poor Pierre out of his traumas? Maybe too much to hope that she and Pierre could adopt little abandoned Cybele, but at least the Sunday meetings might have been formalised.
These thoughts are an indication of how much this harrowing film moved me. I first saw it at the university film society in the 1960's and it has stuck in my mind ever since. The very wide letter-box screen on the DVD was a bit disconcerting to start with but it did have the advantage that the sub-titles appear below the picture on my TV.
"Sundays and Cybele" holds up even after nearly 50 years. I remember seeing it as a very young man and it lodged in my memory as a very touching and moving story of two damaged souls discovering life and love together. Still controversial after all these years, it tells of the older pilot traumatized from bombing an innocent girl in a Vietnamese war and in another time, another place, of a young girl unloved and abandoned by parents and dropped off in a convent in a small French provincial town. Their worlds are shattered. They cling to what it means to be alive and loved. These two strangers come together. They talk. They play. They take meandering walks along a pond, a river. They help to open up each other's feelings of joy and happiness. It is love and light. But perceptions are reality and those around these innocent victims perceive a dark and treacherous motivation in the pilot. They conspire to save the girl, which leads to the inexorable tragic climax. Interesting to revisit the film that was never forgotten, a memory of a haunting, lyrical and tragic story of love, loss, innocence and betrayal. It was as vivid and engrossing now as it was 50 years ago, only the styles have changed. It left me thinking what it might be like to have an American remake, possibly Brad Pitt playing the Hardy Kruger role, reshaping the black and white images into the light and dark shadows of color. But the original "Sundays and Cybele" will always remain a classic.
This is a marvellous movie of a young girl and a traumatised man that more or less fall in love, though there is no sex of course and it is a very innocent relationship. It is a film about two inadequate people who need one another's inadequacies in order to fulfil themselves, which says a lot about many relationships between couples. The actress who plays the girl, Patricia Gozzi, is quite extraordinarily good; and the film is rich with the vanished seediness of France in the late 1950s. Few films have impressed me as much as this one. Curiously the gurus whom I follow - Halliwell, BBC Radio Times Film Guide, Shipman's Guide, Thompson, Variety - either ignore or slate this masterpiece. Only Maltin gives it its due. Histories of the French cinema (I have consulted Lanzoni and Armes) also ignore the wonder that is this movie.
Patricia Gozzi was I suppose 11 or 12 in this film, and you should follow it up by seeing Rapture, made when she was 15. Unfortunately this prodigy made very few films. An enormous talent lost to the screen and to our culture.