Pierre (Hardy Krüger) was a pilot in Vietnam, but a tragedy left him mentally shattered and when he returned home to France with Madeleine (Nicole Courcel), the nurse who had fallen in love with him at the army hospital where she tended to his wounds, he had lost part of his memory, possibly not such a bad thing when killing a child with his crashing plane is what triggered his trauma in the first place. Now he spends his days wandering the streets, which is what he does tonight when a girl at the railway station catches his eye...
That's not a grown-up girl, that's a child of eleven years old, and when he starts to follow her and her father when he takes her to the convent school he is going to abandon her in, we worry for the kid. The thing was, Pierre would never harm the girl, whose name is Cybele (Patricia Gozzi), but for a while we don't know that, which brings tension from one angle, and then from another when those about him begin to have their suspicions about his interest in her. That's where the tragic aspect is brought up, and there were plenty of those around at the time who were very affected by how this resolved itself.
It even won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, which should offer some idea of the esteem director Serge Bourguignon was held in at when this proved an international arthouse hit. That was not to last for him, as his next works were nowhere near as popular, and he had dropped out of the business, and indeed out of sight completely, by the end of the sixties. Which leaves us with this fable-like film, which like him saw its cachet drop until there were but a few dedicated film buffs who might have heard of, or even seen it, and the ones who thought it was a pat and schmaltzy effort numbered among them.
It's true that as a modern fairy tale, Sundays and Cybele was rather heavy-footed rather than a light sprinkling of sad-eyed pixie dust on the harsh world Pierre found himself trying to get to grips with (setting it at Christmas only underlines the creaky tweeness). But that was not to say it was deserving of its obscurity, as there were some nice observations based on character here, such as the way Pierre fears his life is ruined and has no future, whereas he finds hope in his friendship with the girl who has her whole life stretching ahead of her and is thrilled with the possibilities. She dreams of becoming a doctor to make Pierre feel better, or marrying him when she is eighteen.
We can tell that this relationship, however innocent, will not stand up to the scrutiny of the more cynical environment around them, and though they play in the local park (Pierre bluffed his way to seeing Cybele by claiming he was her father to the nuns in charge) they are noticed and people get suspicious. Madeleine is no less disturbed when she discovers where her boyfriend spends his Sundays, but she comes to acknowledge the uncomplicated companionship of the child is not having a detrimental effect on him. Would that everyone else thought the same, and we're not entirely comfortable here either as the story plays with our expectations, such as the scenes where Pierre pushes over a child messing about with Cybele, or starts a brawl on dodgems at the fairground. It's just that he has been so damaged by his experiences, unconsciously hoping to make amends for killing one child by making another happier, that he was never going to truly fit in, and if the moves towards tearjerking are clunky, you do feel sad at the way it ends. Music by Maurice Jarre.