a funny look at peri-urban France in the 1960s


Nobody today is nicknamed “Bébert”, short for Robert, unless he is in his seventies; the omnibuses, which marked a stop at all stations, have been replaced by TER, RER or “Macron cars”. This is to say if the vision of Yves Robert’s film, fifty-eight years after its release, requires a little updating.

In 1963, teens rode bicycles. The adults threatened the children with torgnoles for a yes for a no. We sold everything at La Samaritaine, a Parisian department store today promised a second life in the luxury hotel industry. Summer vacation was the holy grail of a year of hard work. The trains went slowly, but everyone was served. Debonair agents knew how to bend over backwards to ensure the reputation of the SNCF and the greatness of the public service. Tonight, will the elders let themselves be won over by their memories, and the children by the old-fashioned charm of this tender and benevolent film?

Bébert, tyrannical and anar

The story fits on a train ticket. While the whole Martin family, residing in Seine-et-Marne, made their last purchases at the “Samar”, in order to prepare for their departure on vacation, they left Bébert (Martin Lartigue), a dreamer and prankster, under the supervision of his eldest, Tiennot (Jacques Higelin), instructing the latter to bring him back by train to Tournan-en-Brie, cradle of the family. But Tiennot prefers to run girls and loses his little brother along the way. And everyone going in search of Bébert, turning the film into a road movie seine-et-marnais, where steam trains, mid-course bikes, motorbikes and 403 from the national gendarmerie meet.

Shot after the success of The War of the Buttons (1962), by the same Yves Robert, Bébert and the omnibus is built for and around the young and mischievous mug of Martin Lartigue, credited in the credits under the nickname of “Petit Gibus”, the character he played in the adaptation of Louis Pergaud’s book. But, while the first film pits two gangs of children against each other, Bébert and the omnibus places a child in front of adults dressed for the most part in uniforms, representatives of authority (paternal and institutional) – Pierre Mondy (station master), Michel Serrault (SNCF inspector), Jean Lefebvre (agent of interview), Jean Richard (the father) – whom Bébert, tyrannical and anar, ends up transforming into minions subject to his whims.

The film dawdles, lingers … but, advantage of the passage of time, it has, in a few decades, added to its reputation as a family film an unexpected and saving dimension. Today it is a comical documentary on daily life in peri-urban areas in the early 1960s. And perhaps on a certain sweetness of life.

Bébert and the omnibus, by Yves Robert (Fr., 1963, 100 min). With Martin Lartigue, Michel Serrault, Pierre Mondy, Jean Richard.

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