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Film / Sundays and Cybele

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Sundays and Cybele is a 1962 film from France directed by Serge Bourguignon.

Pierre (Hardy Krüger) is a former French fighter pilot. He suffers from debilitating PTSD following an incident in the Indochina War where he saw a little Vietnamese girl in his sights as he was strafing a village. The experience left him an amnesiac who also suffers from headaches and vertigo, and in fact is barely able to function. Pierre's many problems haven't blunted the affections of his gorgeous girlfriend Madeline (Nicole Courcel) who was once his nurse in the hospital and seems dedicated to continuing to care for him from his apartment.

One day Pierre goes to the train station because, being unable to hold a job, that's the kind of thing he does. There he sees a father basically dragging his "almost" 12-year-old daughter off the train and to the local Catholic boarding school. It soon becomes apparent that the father is looking to get rid of the girl forever. When the gates of school shut and the father realizes he still has the girl's tiny briefcase, he simply leaves it out front.


Pierre, who trailed the father and daughter because he saw her crying, retrieves the briefcase. He uncovers a note confirming that the father is in fact abandoning the little girl. The next Sunday, which is family visiting day at the boarding school, he meets the girl to give her the briefcase. The girl, who says the nuns call her "Francoise" even though that isn't her real name (three guesses what her real name is) weeps in despair after reading the note, and begs Pierre to keep her.

Pierre doesn't keep her in the apartment, mainly because he's living with Madeline. Instead he starts seeing her every Sunday on visiting day, pretending to be her father. The grown man and the pre-pubescent girl form a deep bond—one that outsiders don't always understand.



  • Adult Child: Pierre, supposedly, which is the In-Universe explanation for why their relationship isn't profoundly wrong. Francoise says "Deep down, you're like a lost child." Madeline, who eventually becomes supportive of the relationship, finds it "innocent". After seeing Pierre and Francoise together Madeline describes them as "two happy children."
  • Amusement Park: Pierre, Madeline, and Madeline's friends from the hospital go to one. It proves to be a bad idea, as the shell-shocked Pierre, who is already in a bad mood as this group date has caused him to miss his date with Francoise, freaks out, and slaps Madeline while they're playing bumper cars.
  • Bridal Carry: Francoise asks Pierre to carry her in his arms through the woods. It comes off just like this trope.
  • Call-Back: The Bridal Carry moment between Francoise and Pierre in the forest gets a call back at the end, when Francoise/Cybele faints in the forest after Pierre's death and a cop carries her out in just the same manner.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The knife that Pierre for no obvious reason steals from the fortune teller, and then shows off to Francoise. He uses the knife to cut the weather vane off the steeple of the church—Francoise basically dares him to do it—then gets shot when the cops, who see Pierre approaching Francoise with a knife in hand, get the wrong idea.
  • Chiaroscuro: A dramatic shot with Pierre and Francoise talking in a pitch-black apartment, silhouetted against the hallway light outside the doorway.
  • "Dear John" Letter: Or the parental equivalent thereof. Francoise's cowardly father abandons her at the school with promises that he'll come visit her every Sunday, but he's lying; a letter inside the suitcase states that he's never coming back.
  • Distant Prologue: It isn't specified but obviously quite a bit of time must have passed between the opening shot of Pierre in his fighter plane strafing a village, to a deeply damaged Pierre back home in France, where he's been for a while.
  • Downer Ending: Pierre is shot to death by the local cops who mistakenly think he's about to attack Francoise/Cybele. Cybele, weeping hysterically, is asked her name by a cop and says that she has no name and is no one.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Pierre and Francoise are taking their weekly stroll by the lake. She separates from him to play blind man's bluff with some kids her own age. When she starts roughhousing with a boy, Pierre runs up and smacks the boy, leading Francoise to say "Pierre, would you by any chance be jealous?" Later, Francoise is very upset when she, on what's obviously a school outing, sees Pierre with his adult girlfriend Madeline at an amusement park.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: The best spin that one can put on the relationship between Pierre and Francoise.
  • The Jail Bait Wait: From Francoise. She does the math and figures that Pierre is 30 and she's "almost" 12, so they can get married when he's 36 and she's 18.
    Francoise: I'm your fiancée, aren't I?
  • Killed Offscreen: We don't see Pierre get shot to death by the police, we only hear about it when Bernard gets the news over the phone and tells Madeline.
  • Love Martyr: Madeline is awesome and cool and drop-dead gorgeous, but she's fixated on Pierre, who probably should be in a home and obviously has no real interest in her. When Pierre rejects a sexual advance Madeline pronounces herself "your slave" and says that she'll wait for Pierre as long as she has to. After finding out about Pierre's relationship with Francoise, Madeline is forgiving, defending Pierre to more skeptical adults.
  • Match Cut: From a freeze-frame of Pierre's face in the cockpit of his fighter jet, gaping in terror at the sight of the little girl, to Pierre looking up as the train pulls into the station.
  • Meaningful Name: Throughout the whole movie Francoise has coyly refused to tell Pierre her real name. Finally, as they're celebrating Christmas, she reveals that her real name is "Cybele". An enraptured Pierre whispers that it sounds just like the French si belle—"so beautiful".
  • The Noun and the Noun: Sundays and Cybele
  • Parental Abandonment: Francoise's mother abandoned her when she was three. Her father, who regarded her from the start as an inconvenience, stashed her with her grandmother, but when Grandma was unwilling to keep Francoise any more, her father dumped her at the boarding school forever.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Madeline, to Bernard and to everyone else who thinks that it's creepy for a 30-year-old man to go on romantic getaways with a 12-year-old girl.
    "You're the sick one, you and Carlos's wife—all of you who call yourselves normal. You reject anyone who finds happiness outside your conventions. Why? Does his honesty make you uncomfortable?"
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Pierre can't remember anything before the war. He used to have headaches, and apparently he used to be impotent (at least if that's what Madeline means when she says he's "a real man now"). He still gets vertigo and is uncomfortable in social situations.
  • Stocking Filler: Madeline is first introduced wearing nothing but a nightie, peeling stockings off of her long, smooth legs. This and other instances of Fanservice with Madeline, besides simply being Fanservice, are obviously meant to demonstrate exactly the sort of mature feminine sexuality that Pierre doesn't want.
  • Sweater Girl: Madeline fills out some tight sweaters.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Still more Fanservice from Madeline, as she's changing in the bathroom.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Pierre's whole Shell-Shocked Veteran deal and his other psychological issues cause him to have a freak out at the amusement park and slap Madeline. Madeline, who is way too forgiving in general, is understanding about this as well.

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