Essay:Movie Review/Analysis of SUNDAYS AND CYBELE
Note: this review/analysis contains major spoilers!
A Cinematic View of Intergenerational Romance: Sundays and Cybele
Sundays and Cybele (French title: Les Dimanches de Ville d'Avray) is a beautiful film about a romantic relationship between a man named Pierre (about 30) and a young girl christened Francoise (almost 12) - with deference to the plot, I shall intentionally refrain from using her true name. The best thing about this film is that it is unburdened by the weight of the last half century of propaganda. And though the couple's love is still misunderstood, and ultimately destroyed by insensitive external forces, the film sympathizes with the intergenerational lovers, and seems to condone their relationship. Albeit, with a couple of caveats.
Pierre is a troubled war veteran suffering from amnesia following a tragic plane crash that killed a young Vietnamese girl. There is no evidence that he has a regular attraction to young girls - in fact, he is intimately involved with an adult nurse named Madeleine. Francoise seems to be a special exception. She is a charming but lonely girl, sent to a convent near Pierre's apartment. Pierre encounters her by chance on the train platform one evening, and, perhaps seeking absolution for the girl he accidentally killed in the war, he is instantly drawn to her. After the girl's father abandons her, Pierre steps in and a bond quickly grows between them.
The two spend their Sundays together happily in the park. The nuns at the convent mistake him for the girl's father, and strangers assume she is his daughter - until their friendship deepens, and several observers begin to suspect that something unusual is going on between them. Madeleine is initially pleased at the improvement in Pierre's mood, but conflict erupts when she discovers that her companion has been lying to her about sneaking off on Sundays - not to spend time with another woman, but with a girl who is "only" a child!
There is a poignant scene where Madeleine discusses the situation with Pierre's friend, Carlos, who is sympathetic to the troubled man's needs. Even Carlos' wife thinks it is inappropriate for a grown man to "romance" a child, but Carlos confidently defends their relationship - citing Pierre's own child-like mental state (the result of his amnesia, and the trauma of his wartime experiences), and how much happier it has undeniably made him.
But within this conditional acceptance of their love lies the presumption that a positive relationship between an adult and a child can only be possible under special circumstances - specifically, where the adult is mentally deficient in some capacity, so as to be on a level with the child, and where the child is lacking affection from a more appropriate source (usually the parents). While this may represent a complementary pairing, the implication is that there must be something wrong with an adult who desires, and can appreciate, the company of a child, and that the child must be neglected (or perhaps abused) in order to welcome the adult's affections.
This view stands as an insult to many a child's oft overlooked and underrated abilities, and it ignores the great diversity of individual children, some of whom are more and less developed than the majority of their peers. Furthermore, it precludes the possibility that a perfectly capable, fully functioning adult could have (and want!) a positive relationship with a healthy, well-adapted child, without being motivated by any desire to harm or take advantage of the child in any way, and that the child could reciprocate feelings of mutual affection. Suggesting this is an insult to the concept of romantic love, which can develop between persons of all ages.
Nevertheless, Pierre and Francoise are well suited to each other. They are compatible, and they clearly have genuine feelings for one another. Even Madeleine recognizes the wholesomeness of their relationship after spying on them in the park one Sunday. Yet, I suspect this would not be the case if their relationship were not sexually pure. It is undoubtable that the feelings between the two lovers are more than platonic, but the relationship is devoid of any obvious sexual passion (or lust, if you will).
What they have is beautiful, and it would be inappropriate to pressure a young girl into sexual activity before she's ready. But though Francoise appears to be unready, the case may be different with other girls of a similar age. Basing the virtue of a relationship on its lack of sexual activity marginalizes those relationships where some form of physical intimacy plays a part (whether integral or incidental), and trivializes (to a dangerous extent) the difference between mutually consensual, pleasurable sexual activity and abusive sexual coercion.
Putting aside the risk of "premature" sexual debut - which, apart from the crime of sexual abuse, is viewed as a grave dishonor in cultures that value female virginity and childhood purity - we are left with the risk of violent harm. All too often it is the case, where relationships between adults and children are concerned, that the symptoms of love are interpreted to be motivated by hate (or vice versa). Even a cursory examination of Pierre and Francoise's relationship - as performed by those who truly care - would reveal the absence of any serious threat to Francoise's well-being (quite the contrary, in fact). It is true that Pierre engages in some compulsive behaviors, but these acts are committed not with a violent will, but rather an absent-minded naivety, which reflects his immaturity.
On the other hand, upon hearing about the relationship, one of Pierre's acquaintances brazenly assumes that Pierre's goal is to murder Francoise. Why? Because he wasn't punished for (accidentally) killing a child during the war, and that killing another one is the only way to bring upon himself the punishment he deserves. Never mind the fact that if Pierre feels guilty about killing the child, it stands to reason that the last thing he'd want to do is kill another one. Moreover, why would he spend so much time befriending the girl only to kill her in an elaborate plot on Christmas? But those who are quick to judge are not driven by rational thought.
Ultimately, Pierre's pure love is defensible largely on account of his developmental deficiency and nonsexual interest in Francoise. An actual pedophile, with a recurring attraction to children, that has a clear sexual component, would fare no better than he (and probably considerably worse). However, Pierre still meets a tragic end at the hands of those who would shoot first and ask questions later, fearing the smallest possibility that a child may be in danger (willing to murder innocents to prevent the "murder" of innocence).
But the most sinister thing of all is not the insensitivity shown toward an adult's love of a child, but the insensitivity shown toward the child's feelings. Some say a child doesn't have the cognitive capacity to deal with the emotional intensity of a romantic relationship. But what of the emotional intensity a child must bear with having her only and beloved adult companion murdered in cold blood in front of her? I doubt the cops and child "protectors" in this film have any sincere remorse for the suffering they've caused this girl in their misguided attempt to protect her. We'll allow a child to endure just about any form of suffering in life as long as it does not possess the threat of a sexual component, and yet, we are deathly afraid of allowing her to love, and be loved (at least not "in that way"). I wonder what sentence awaits the girl's father who abandoned her - probably none. Yet I am sure the man who loved her would have lost his liberty, had he not had the misfortune to first lose his life, at the hands of the "justice" system.