Nice, France. Bernadette, about twenty, is the object of interest of a horde of schoolboys on summer holiday. The narrator, one of them grown up, explains, “She awoke in us the luminous springs of sensuality.” The film opens on the open road as Bernadette, wearing a skirt, rides her bicycle towards a back-tracking camera.
Alas! Bernadette is “Gérardette”—with her fiancé, Gérard, half of an increasingly conjoined couple. The camera now withdraws to show Bernadette and Gérard riding bicycles side-by-side, holding hands, briefly letting go, holding hands again. The pair exacerbate the boys’ sense of exclusion from something wonderful, mysterious: sexual experience; broadly, the adult world they ache to be part of.
A lateral tracking shot shows the boys, seated on the ground, smoking cigarettes: conformity in rebelliousness.
Gérard is young, muscular, sturdy. Looking at him, who would think about death? The schoolboys’ attempts to torment the couple turn incredibly nasty when they send Bernadette a cruel postcard during Gérard’s absence for a few-week bachelor excursion prior to his marrying her, the love of his life. Mountain-climbing, Gérard loses his footing, his life.
What do schoolboys know about death? We have seen them play shooting-death. One pretends to shoot another, who falls to the ground pretending to be dead. In homage to Jean Cocteau, the director of Les mistons (The Brats) applies reverse motion to the “fallen” child, restoring him to upright life, to express the schoolboys’ innocence regarding death. François Truffaut’s 17-minute film ends with Bernadette, widowed despite the wedding that never occurred, walking down a street towards the camera, which finally pans upwards to the sky. The narrator tells us this woman ceased to matter to him from that day forward—only, his reminiscence of her is haunted.
A lyrical, ironical black-and-white masterpiece.