Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.
2018 has not been kind, and we’re only a week in. On the third, a woman turned directly in front of my wife on the road, causing an accident. We’ll find out tomorrow if our little Fiat is going to be totaled or not, and Sue is battered, bruised and currently on heavy medication. My father’s wife has had a medical procedure with some complications. My mom has pneumonia. Just this morning, an ambulance showed up to take one of my neighbors to the hospital. It’s been a week of tragedy to start the year. Naturally, the film that showed up from NetFlix was Sundays and Cybele (Les Dimanches de Ville d’Avray in the French), a movie that more or less defines the concept of tragedy.
I’m of two minds with something like this. On the one hand, a film like Sundays and Cybele fits in with the sort of mood I’m in right now. Sometimes, when it feels like the world is crashing about one’s ears, it can be satisfying to revel in that feeling. In that respect, this was almost the perfect film for me today. On the other hand, sometimes when things seem to be constantly spiraling downward, we want an uplift. Based on that, this was absolutely the wrong choice for today.
Pierre (Hardy Kruger) is a former military pilot who may have killed a young Vietnamese girl when he crash landed his plane in Vietnam. The trauma of this experience has given him at least partial amnesia; he’s lost a chunk of his past. Out of the hospital, Pierre is currently living with Madeleine (Nicole Courcel), his nurse. Pierre is drifting, not sure who he is, and spends most of his time waiting for Madeleine to return from work. One night, waiting at the train station, he sees a man with a young, crying girl. The man takes the girl to an orphanage and runs off, leaving behind a package that Pierre takes.
The next Sunday, Pierre goes to the orphanage and claims to be the young girl’s father. The girl (Patricia Gozzi), is called Francoise by the nuns at the orphanage, but claims to have a different, non-Christian name given to her by her mother. Her story is that her father refused to marry her mother and her mother ran off with another man. She was put in the care of a cruel grandmother who no longer wanted her, and evidently neither did her father. She is otherwise alone. Feeling as if she is a kindred spirit, Pierre agrees to come for her every Sunday and they will spend the day together.
It’s soon evident that the two view the relationship very differently. For Pierre, his time with Francoise/Cybele is almost a reconnection to his own childhood, a time of far more simplicity and ease. Cybele soon sees Pierre as not merely her substitute father, but as her only path of escape from what looks to be the solitary life ahead of her. She has decided that in six years, when she is 18 and Pierre is 36, they will be married. Her connection to him is the sort of youthful, childish edges of romance, not really understanding the concept of romantic love but knowing that it’s a thing.
In both cases, the love between Pierre and Cybele is completely innocent. Pierre’s love for Cybele is completely non-sexual, and in her case, Cybele is a very ineffective and innocent Lolita. Much of their interaction centers on a weather vane-like rooster on the top of a tall building in town. What she wants more than anything is for Pierre to get it for her. The problems happen in this relationship when other people discover it and decide that it isn’t innocent and pure, particularly from the standpoint of Pierre.
There is something very special about the nature of a doomed romance, or at least something that resonates with me a great deal. I’ve said a number of times that with the exception of Romeo and Juliet, I tend to like my romances a little darker and less fulfilled. Sundays and Cybele isn’t a true romance, of course, although it functions very much in that way. It is, more or less, a romance without the actual romance. I suppose that makes it a love story instead, and not at all the standard type.
It’s a beautiful film. Hardy Kruger, despite looking a little bit like Martin Milner, is a compelling presence on screen. Pierre is a lost man through the bulk of the film, and Kruger portrays him believably. He feels at home nowhere, essentially always wanting to be somewhere else no matter where he is. He’s trapped in his own partial amnesia, and the only time he feels normal is when he is with Cybele. Patricia Gozzi is in interesting actor. Cybele is clearly a character who wants to be a Lolita, but she appears to be a very young 12 years old. She is very much a wide-eyed child, easily pitied and entirely sympathetic both because of and despite her misguided and inappropriate love for Pierre.
It’s hard to say that Sundays and Cybele is an enjoyable film, but it is a beautiful one and one worth seeing, if only to see how the world often misreads things and acts poorly when it finds something it doesn’t understand.
Why to watch Sundays and Cybele: In the hands of the right filmmaker, tragedy can be beautiful.
Why not to watch: Holy crap, you’ll want to kill yourself.