Françoise Sagan was a sensation in 1950s France – a young woman who gained fame at 18 with the publication of her first novel, Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sorrow), in 1953.
A later novel, first published in 1959 when Sagan was 24, tells the story of a 40-year old decorator named Paula and her lover of five years, Roger. His philandering is constant, and Paula succumbs to the charms of a younger man who falls in love with her, and pursues her with abandon.
These were very different times. Sagan’s writing was scandalous, albeit wildly successful.
I happened upon the 1961 film version of this later book, Aimez-Vous Brahams (Do You Like Brahms), which was titled as “Goodbye Again.”
It stars Ingrid Bergman as Paula, Yves Montand as Roger, and Anthony Perkins as Philip, the young man who pursues her.
1961: Older Woman, Younger Man – Quel Scandal!
When the film was made, Bergman was 45, Perkins was 29, and Montand was 40, though he appears older than Bergman. In her role as Paula, the established and respected decorator is well aware of her lover’s philandering – at one point he says “this is who I am” – and she doesn’t expect him to change. She looks the other way as long has he is discreet.
This arrangement isn’t so striking to me, but what I do find striking?
50 years later we still turn a blind eye for men, still think nothing of men sleeping with women 20 or more years younger, yet we raise an eyebrow when a woman does the same – or anything close.
When Paula begins seeing the younger man, the son of one of her wealthy clients, Roger is incensed. When they discuss the situation and she refers to his many “girls” in order to put her actions into context, his response is maddening (to our 21st century sensibilities). He replies “at least that’s normal.”
The Aging Unmarried Woman is Viewed as Desperate
At one point, Paula asks: “Has time caught up with me already?”
That remark strikes a chord, even from where I sit with my contemporary sensibilities… Beauty and youth, as the measure of a woman…
Eventually the young man’s insistence makes itself felt. Given the neglect Paula feels in her relationship with Roger, she succumbs to Philip’s charms. Bergman gives us a glorious moment as she is lying in bed the morning after sleeping with Philip for the first time – her expression is one of tenderness, regret, pleasure, worry – so many emotions – each fleeting but deeply felt.
Only when she and Philip move in together does Roger pay attention. After a number of embarrassing moments – for her – friends and associates disdainful of her relationship with a younger man, Roger asks her to marry him.
Naturally – this is a mid-century story after all – she says yes, she leaves Philip, she marries Roger, and while she gets the ring and the status, he quickly resumes his former extracurricular habits.
Ouch once again, which hardly seems sufficient!
Real Scandal, Real Bergman, Real Double Standards
While this little film comes across as soapy, given the times (and the English speaking audience), I can appreciate the daring it took to show Roger and Paula shacking up. Even more audacious – an affair between a 40-year-old woman and a 25-year-old man.
While Ingrid Bergman herself benefited from a wholesome image as portrayed by Hollywood – beloved for Casablanca, Notorious, and more – when the married star and mother of one took up with married director, Roberto Rossellini, in 1950, she was quickly blackballed by the powers that be. Ditto, her adoring public.
Although Bergman and Rossellini did marry (and later divorce), with three children coming out of their union, it took years for the academy award-winning actress to work her way back into American film.
By today’s standards, this may seem inappropriate but it’s hardly the stuff of national outrage. Yet at the time? Scandal with a capital S… for sex.
S for Scandal, Sagan-Style
Then there is Françoise Sagan herself, the precocious author whose life was a bit of a freewheeling mess. She went through a few marriages, was active on the party circuit, and attempts to recapture her early successes never quite made the grade.
On a side note, I find myself wondering how such a young woman penned the feelings of a “middle-aged” 40-year old, when she herself was only 23 or 24.
Sagan does an excellent job of capturing the sense of being shelved due to age, not to mention the necessity of being married – even on the continent where most of us think Love and Sex were tolerated in more configurations than in the US.
As for my take-aways from this film, its stars, and the author of the original novel?
Double standards persist, loneliness exists behind the most glamorous lifestyles, and we can only hope for an equal number of hellos to offset the more painful goodbyes – some of which are to our innocence.
Image of Ingrid Bergman, publicity still, 1940, Public Domain
DVD Cover Image, Goodbye Again, Amazon.com
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