The Bride Wore Black
Details: (M), 108 mins, France,
Synopsis: Francois Truffaut's story of thwarted love and revenge centres on a grief-stricken woman's attempts to avenge the death of her husband. Julie Kohler (Jeanne Moreau) watches her childhood sweetheart gunned down on the steps of the church, moments after they have exchanged their vows. She channels her grief into hatred for her husband's murderers, and tracks them down, to seduce and then dispose of them.
Hell hath no fury like a grieving bride.
Under the scrutiny that any film that carries the name ‘Truffaut’ in its credits must endure, The Bride Wore Black reveals itself to be an accomplished B-genre revenge thriller with a compelling lead performance by Jeanne Moreau.
Had the name of (arguably) French New Wave cinema’s greatest proponent not been attached, the film might have faded from memory, its convolutions and plot coincidences perhaps a little too pat for modern tastes. Intense study of Truffaut’s filmography over the last 50 years has continued to bolster the film’s reputation and afford it significance, though some may say far beyond its actual worth.
The strikingly-photogenic Moreau plays Julie Kohler, a stony-faced psychopath on a murder spree, to avenge the death of her groom (Serge Rosseau), who was gunned down on the church steps the day of their wedding. Moreau insinuates herself into the lives of the five men responsible (the film never reveals how she discovered their identities) and offs them in increasingly creative ways – by luring a man over a balcony with her silk scarf, for example, or by bow-&-arrow whilst nude modelling. One sequence, in which she ingratiates herself into a little boy’s home only to murder his father as the child sleeps, indicates Truffaut is definitely working within the dark side of his pop-psyche. The film is more akin to his juvenile-crime drama The 400 Blows (1959) than the film for which he is most celebrated, the buoyant love story Jules et Jim (1962).
Truffaut has openly admitted that The Bride Wore Black is his homage to Alfred Hitchcock; Hitch’s mastery of the artform and skill as a layered-storyteller is revered in Europe. Many of Hitchcock’s trademark flourishes can be found in Truffaut’s film: the blurring of hero and villain archetypes; the immorality at the core of the main protagonists; mordant humour in the grimmest of circumstances (the prison-set payoff is a tongue-in-cheek gem); a stark Bernard Herrmann score; and a lead actress far darker than any of the low-lifes upon whom she unleashes her vengeance.
If all this sounds familiar to Tarantinophiles, there are definite similarities to the Kill Bill films. This despite Tarantino swearing his revenge fantasies were not inspired by Truffaut’s work – a claim that is a little hard to swallow from a man whose entire oeuvre has been one big nod to a century of popular cinema. In a 2003 interview with Japanese journalist Tomohiro Machiyama, Tarantino claimed to have never seen The Bride Wore Black. “The reason I've never seen it is because I've just never been a huge Truffaut fan,” said QT. “I'm not rejecting it; I just never saw it.”
Which seems particularly odd, given The Bride Wore Black is one of Truffaut’s most outwardly accessible films. Populist cinema and auteurism aren’t always comfortable bedfellows, as evidenced by Truffaut’s own travails within the Hollywood system (his ambitious but underwhelming 1966 film, Fahrenheit 451, the most telling example). But, in exhibiting Truffaut’s respect for the influence of American film language on world cinema, The Bride Wore Black finds a dark yet entertaining balance between B-movie conventions and his European film sensibilities.
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