Sundays and Cybele
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Released: November 1962
In the movies, it’s very common to see love stories in which the man is significantly older than the woman. Somehow it doesn’t seem as unrealistic as it is in real life—imagine some grandpa who looks like Humphry Bogart (56) ending up with a young girl who looks like Audrey Hepburn (25)—it of course happened in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina (1954). Honestly, it would probably be weird to see a post-1980 movie with Jack Nicholson hooking up with anyone in his general age bracket.
1962’s Best Foreign Film Sundays and Cybele gives us a relationship in which the age difference is a little more on the unacceptable side, with the guy in his mid-30’s and the girl being a lot younger. As in 12-years-old. Now that’s weird. But this movie isn’t like Lolita, the Stanley Kubrick dark comedy of the same year. Oddly enough, the man in this relationship, Pierre, isn’t a perv like the old man in that book by Nabakov, and this is definitely not a comedy but an out-and-out tragedy.
|Pierre and Cybele|
The film starts with an action scene: Pierre is a fighter pilot in Indochina (now Vietnam, and the subject of 1992’s Best Foreign Film winner, Indochine, starring Catherine Deneuve), flying over a small village and finding he will have to crash land right on a little Vietnamese girl. We next see Pierre back in France some time later, having a pretty nurse girlfriend, Madeleine, but greatly damaged by his past. He doesn’t really remember who he is and despite Madeleine’s best efforts, it seems he’s lost his sexual mojo. But in 1962 France they don’t have Viagra or side-to-side-bathtubs, so Madeleine, faithfully in love with the vacant Pierre, has to take up knitting or kick boxing to work out her frustrations. She has a male doctor colleague, Bernard, who is more than willing to step into the adjoining tub with her.
But the main focus is on Pierre. Pierre meets a little girl, Cybele, who is being dumped by her father into a convent to be raised. It seems the dad was stuck with her somehow and wants nothing to do with her. Pierre learns of this and feels bad for his new friend. He poses as her father and picks her up one day so that she can have some time away from her new hated home. Soon, they make it a regular thing, with Pierre taking her to the park and hanging out and chatting with her for hours every Sunday.
|Pierre and Madeleine|
He is very innocent about it, no creepy hugs or lingering looks or anything icky like that. Still, this is a romance of sorts—Cybele calls Pierre her fiancé and he gets intensely jealous when he sees another 12-year old, a boy, chatting with her. As clueless as he is, Pierre knows to conceal the relationship from Madeleine. Still, they are out in public all the time, so you know this isn’t going to end well.
Sundays and Cybele is really a sweet movie, and you cannot help hoping for the best for these two lovebirds. It’s not Pierre’s fault where he is mentally, and Patricia Gozzi as Cybele is such a charming and intelligent girl, it seems odd any father would want to dump her off at a convent. Hardy Krüger plays Pierre perfectly, a completely sympathetic figure having a relationship that would seem so abhorrent to an outsider. French composer Maurice Jarre, who won an Oscar for Best Score for Lawrence of Arabia that same year, was also nominated for “Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment” for Sundays and Cybele.
|"Grandpa, you smell like whiskey and cigars"|
The Title: Les dimanches de Ville d'Avray (Sundays in Ville d'Avray). Ville d’Avray in the suburb where Pierre takes Cybele to hang out every week.
The culture: France was out of Vietnam after 1954, when Dien Bien Phu fell, so this must take place sometime in the early 1950’s. Given Pierre’s state after his crash, this movie can be construed to be one of the earliest anti-Vietnam war movies, in a way.
Agenda danger: Whatever your view on the vast changes in the past decade or less on American views on sexuality and appropriate relationships, the views on pedophilia largely remain unchanged. This movie is not an attempt at normalizing this kind of relationship. The point is, Pierre is really a child like Cybele, and Cybele needed someone who cared about her.
Best Picture that year: Lawrence of Arabia
Rating: The story is as unique as the relationship between Pierre and Cybele. Honestly, I didn’t much buy into Pierre’s relationship with Madeleine, as it didn’t really make sense to me why she was with him in the first place. But as potentially disturbing as relationship between the adult man and girl is, they both were realistic about who they were. Cybele talks about them getting married years from now, when they are both of appropriate age, and for his part, Pierre seems to never have an untoward thought about her in his head. For my money, their relationship seemed a lot more likely than Grandpa Bogart and fresh-out-of-cooking-school Sabrina.