Sundays and Cybele (1962): Serge Bourguignon’s French Oscar Winner, Starring German Actor Hardy Kruger (War, Amnesia)

The charming French film, Sundays and Cybele, directed and co-written by Serge Bourguignon, is based on a novel by Bernard Eschasseriaux, who also collaborated on the screenplay.

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

Sundays and Cybele
Original poster of Sundays and Cybele..jpg

Original French poster 1962

The film’s original French title is Les dimanches de Ville d’Avray (Sundays in Ville d’Avray), referring to the Ville-d’Avray suburb of Paris.

A German soldier (played by Hardy Kruger), who had suffered emotional and mental damages from a plane crash during the French Indochina War, is mistaken to be the father of a young girl in a French boarding school.

The story centers on the intimate, unlikely friendship that evolves between the girl and the German, who spend most of their Sundays together.

Things change when his nurse spots him in the forest with the girl, leading to some tragic results.

Narrative Structure: Tragic Ending (Spoiler Alert)

Pierre suffers from amnesia after war-time accident in which he might have killed a young Vietnamese girl while crash-landing his stricken plane. His nurse, Madeleine, lives with him in a low-key but potentially romantic relationship.

When Pierre befriends Cybèle, a young girl in distress as her father is dropping her off at an orphanage. They are both lonely, childlike, and in need of a supportive friend.

Eventually, he pretends to be the girl’s father, which allows her to escape the locked orphanage for a day. From that point on, he shares every one of his Sundays with her for months.

Pierre conceals his friendship with Cybèle from Madeleine, but she eventually finds out, and tells Bernard, a doctor who has a romantic interest in her. Bernard assumes the girl to be in danger, and notifies the police, who adopt the same assumption.

Pierre has nothing to give Cybèle for Christmas, so he accepts her facetious challenge to bring her the metal rooster from the top of a Gothic church near the orphanage. While Cybèle falls asleep, awaiting Pierre for their Christmas together in the snow-covered park’s gazebo, the former pilot musters the nerve to climb the 300-foot steeple. With his knife as a tool to unscrew the rooster, he brings it down.

As he returns to Cybèle, with the metal rooster and his knife in his hands, the police arrive and shoot him dead to “protect” the child, whom they had imagined to be in danger.

In the last scene, Cybèle awakens to the horror of seeing her only friend dead, and bursts crying in anguish.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Foreign Language Film

Screenplay (Adapted): Serge Bourguignon and Antoine Tudal

Scoring: Maurice Jarre

Oscar Awards: 1

Foreign Language Film

Oscar Context

The winner of the Best Screenplay Oscar was John Osborn for “Tom Jones,” which also won Best Picture. Billy Wilder’s “Irma La Douce” received the Scoring Award.

The French feature won the foreign language Oscar in a contest that included “Electra” from Greece, “The Four Days of Naples” from Italy, “The Keeper of Promises” (aka “The Given World”) from Brazil, and “Tlayucan” from Mexico.

Critical Status:

Sundays and Cybele also won the Best Foreign Language Film from the National Board of Review (NBR).

Cast
Hardy Krüger as Pierre
Nicole Courcel as Madeleine
Patricia Gozzi as Cybèle/Françoise
Daniel Ivernel as Carlos
André Oumansky as Bernard

Credits:

Directed by Serge Bourguignon
Produced by Romain Pinès
Screenplay by Serge Bourguignon, Antoine Tudal, Bernard Eschassériaux, based on Les dimanches de Ville d’Avray by Bernard Eschassériaux
Music by Maurice Jarre
Distributed by Davis-Royal

Columbia Pictures

Release date: November 12, 1962

Running time: 110 minutes.