The Bride Wore Black

1968, Movie, NR, 107 mins


Jeanne Moreau gives an elegantly cool performance as a widow bent on vengeance in THE BRIDE WORE BLACK, Francois Truffaut's suspenseful and atypically heartless adaptation of Cornell Woolrich's even more heartless novel.

After being restrained from committing suicide, Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) sets off on a mysterious quest to find five men. She tracks down a playboy named Bliss (Claude Rich), crashes his engagement party and lures him out onto a balcony, then pushes him to his death. Next, she seduces a lonely bachelor named Coral (Michel Bouquet), and kills him by injecting poison into his wine. As he's dying, she tells him that she did it because he was among the group of five men who were responsible for the shooting death of her husband on the steps of the church on her wedding day. Coral claims it was an accident and pleads with Julie to call a doctor, but she refuses.

Next on her list is pompous politician Morane (Michel Lonsdale). Posing as his son's teacher, Julie insinuates herself into Morane's house and locks him in a cupboard. When she reveals who she is, he explains that the shooting of her husband was accidental, the result of a long night of drinking and card playing which ended when the men, who were fooling around with a rifle, pointed it out the window of their room, which was across the street from the church.

Julie leaves him there to suffocate, then moves on to find Delvaux (Daniel Boulanger), a crooked used car dealer. As Julie is about to shoot him, however, he's arrested by the police for dealing in stolen goods. The fifth and final victim is a womanizing artist named Fergus (Charles Denner). Julie poses as a model for a book about "Diana the Huntress" which Fergus is illustrating, and over the course of a few days, Fergus falls in love with her, but she kills him using the bow and arrow she's been posing with. She then allows herself to be caught and admits to the murders, but won't divulge her motive. She's sent to prison, where she helps the matrons serve food to the other inmates, one of whom turns out to be Delvaux. Julie steals a butcher knife from the kitchen and completes her plan by stabbing Delvaux to death.

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK is always referred to as Truffaut's most "Hitchockian" film, an intentional homage to his idol about whom he had recently published a landmark interview book. And while it is true that the film contains numerous Hitchcockian elements (Bernard Herrmann's throbbing score; several lengthy, subjective POV tracking shots; recurring images of money, suitcases, and trains, a la PSYCHO, MARNIE and NORTH BY NORTHWEST), Truffaut maintained that the film was also a tribute to his other acknowledged mentor, Jean Renoir. This can be discerned in the many touches of dark Gallic humor with which the chauvinistic male characters are depicted, and the way in which sympathy is gradually engendered for Julie as well as her victims, invoking Renoir's famous line that "Everybody has their reasons." Thus, beneath the plot, there is a fascinating aesthetic dialectic going on between the dual influences of Hitchcock and Renoir, typified by the musical duel between Herrmann's suspenseful score and the lyrical Vivaldi interpolations, and the fact that all of the violence is stylized and takes place mostly off screen.

The film is certainly Hitchockian in its rigorous, methodical structure, as the implacable, dispassionate Julie moves from one murder to the next like an inexorable black widow, but its themes and the attitudes expressed by the men towards women are wholly French. Making numerous alterations to Cornell Woolrich's original novel (including revealing Julie's motive in the middle instead of the end with a series of alternate-angle VERTIGO-like flashbacks, and having her successfully kill the correct men, unlike in the novel where she kills the wrong ones), the film is most distinctively Truffautesque in the way that the men are all portrayed as misogynistic skirt chasers who are destroyed by their uncontrollable impulses. As Morane says, their only common interests were "women and hunting" and Julie exploits their individual weaknesses and infatuations to lure them to their deaths. It's an enjoyable and entertaining film, albeit probably Truffaut's darkest and least sentimental work, with the disturbing underlying message that all men are pigs, a sentiment that likely owes more to Woolrich than Truffaut. (Violence, nudity.) leave a comment

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