Sundays and Cybele Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
In the opening moments of SUNDAYS AND CYBELE, the fighter jet piloted by Pierre flies over war-ravaged territory. Below, the enemy fires shots at the plane. Pierre somehow gets a clear vision of a young girl that will soon be a victim. The image holds on Pierre’s face, his eyes wide and knowing of what is happening.
Years later, he sits at a train station. He watches a father tell his reluctant daughter she is being sent away to an orphanage. After a moment, the girl smiles at Pierre and he smiles back at the humanity. Pierre (Harry Krüger, who would later receive a Golden Globe nomination for his turn in 1965’s THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX) is aware the father will never be back for the girl, Cybèle (Patricia Gozzi, Jean-Pierre Melville’s LEON MORIN, PRIEST), and so Pierre arrives at the orphanage one day to visit her, an act he keeps hidden from his girlfriend, Madeline (Nicole Courcel, Marcel Carné’s LA MARIE DU PORT).
It would be easy to jump to the assumption that there will be a sexual relationship between Pierre and Cybèle or that Pierre is some sort of predator. The initial premise—a stranger coming to an orphanage to befriend a girl in need of an adult figure—is indeed creepy, but this is not the intention (despite the playful talk that they are engaged). Here are two characters—one disabled by the war, the other discarded by her father—who both need someone. That one is an adult and the other is a child shouldn’t matter. And yet, as the story continues and the relationship develops, it does to those in the community.
With SUNDAYS AND CYBELE, director Serge Bourguignon (whose LE SOURIRE won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 13th Cannes Film Festival) has created a stellar debut and a lovely story that shows just what a friendship can do for the soul. This is a bond that is genuinely sweet and important to both parties, perhaps best illustrated in the scene where Pierre scales a local steeple to retrieve the metal rooster on top as a Christmas gift to his friend.
A significant theme of the screenplay, by Bourguignon and collaborators Antoine Tudal (THE MAGIC OF THE KITE) and Bernard Eschassériaux (whose novel served as the source), is that of innocence and how it’s perceived. The scene where Pierre strikes a young boy for being what he sees as perhaps too playful with Cybèle can be viewed in two ways: either Pierre is standing up for childhood, or he is suppressing it. It’s moments like that show how complex the seemingly simple film is and that set one’s views on the entire film.
SUNDAYS AND CYBELE features delicate camerawork (by Henri Decaë, who also shot films for René Clément, Louis Malle, François Truffaut and more) and a subtle score by Maurice Jarre (who won the first of his three Oscars—for David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA—just two years prior), both of which lend to the intended mood.
SUNDAYS AND CYBELE won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also nominated for Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
Video: 2.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 4K film scanner from a new 35 mm fine-grain master made from the original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, and jitter were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, flicker, grain, and noise management. Customs stamps printed into the original negative were also removed.”
This high-definition transfer of SUNDAYS AND CYBELE is a stellar one that features excellent details, superb contrast and strong black levels, all of which aid to cinematographer Henri Decaë’s work.
Audio: French Mono. Subtitles in English. “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35 mm D/M/E magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube’s integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 3.”
The audio transfer is also without flaw, presenting clear dialogue and a clean Maurice Jarre score.
Serge Bourguignon (26:29): In this interview, recorded at Bourguignon’s home in 2014, the director discusses making SUNDAYS AND CYBELE and making films in 1960s France.
Patricia Gozzi (11:17): Gozzi reflects on being a child actress and working with Harry Krüger.
Harry Krüger (23:10): Krüger touches on his own experiences making SUNDAYS AND CYBELE.
LE SOURIRE (22:20): Bourguignon’s 1960 short, which won the Short Film Palme d’Or at the 13th Cannes Film Festival. Also included is an Introduction (6:57).
Also included with this Criterion Collection release is a booklet featuring an essay by critic Ginette Vincendeau.