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Sunday, July 17

Directed by François Truffaut

Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve

(1969) “You can kill me. I’m willing to die.” On the Island of Réunion, lonely tobacco planter Jean-Paul Belmondo awaits the docking of La sirène du Mississippi (last vestige of the New Orleans setting of the original novel Waltz into Darkness) and the arrival of his not-too-bad mail order bride. But off the boat steps Catherine Deneuve! And as the seemingly obvious concealments, labored explanations and painful deceptions escalate into gunplay and poisoning (figured out by eyeing comic strip Snow White), we realize we’re witnessing the growth of a classic amour fou, in the tradition of Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou, worthy of Antoine Doinel himself. After The Bride Wore Black, Truffaut’s second William Irish (aka Rear Window scribe Cornell Woolrich) adaptation, and his biggest-budgeted work to date, with France’s most famous and expensive starts, and widescreen (used to get both stars on screen at once) location shooting from the Indian Ocean to the Alps, this was Truffaut’s most invisible release here. In French, with English subtitles. 35mm. Approx. 123 mins.


“A DOOM-LADEN ROMANTIC THRILLER. Long silences are built into the story of the tentative couple, and the methodical pacing bears the anguish of a slow-motion catastrophe. Under starchy bourgeois formalities, Truffaut finds a rampant daily eroticism of leers and glimpses, probings and pawings that are all the more enticing for their air of dirtiness. His tautly controlled wide-screen images lend an unnatural chill to the garish tropical light of Réunion; their complex and delicate pirouettes throb with the thrill of sex and violence. Under her cold manners and glossy looks, [Catherine Deneuve] is another of Truffaut’s feral survivors of a wild childhood, a vengeful outcast from a society that tormented her from the start. Truffaut joins the redemptive power of love to a stifled guffaw of irony.”
– Richard Brody, The New Yorker

“If for no other reason, it is worth seeing just to see all the YSL (a wedding gown, a safari suit, a trench, feathered coat, and sundresses) that Deneuve wears throughout the film.”
– Vogue

“Dedicated to Jean Renoir, based on a noir novel by Cornell Woolrich, and an homage of sorts to Vertigo, Truffaut’s frequently overlooked eighth feature isn’t kid stuff...The unwieldy plot is grounded by its fascinating leads, especially Deneuve, memorably suffering night terrors. No mere genre-tinkering, MM also serves as a memento mori equally touching and perverse: A scene of Louis fondling Marion, who pretends to be asleep, replicates a moment from another unjustly neglected Truffaut film, The Soft Skin (1964), starring Françoise Dorléac, Deneuve's beloved older sister, who died in 1967.”
– Melissa Anderson, Village Voice 

The Mississippi Mermaid has the form of a preposterous romantic melodrama, but it is so full of lovely, complex things—of unannounced emotions, of ideas, of the memories of other movies (Truffaut’s, as well as of those of two of his father-figures, Renoir and Hitchcock)—that it defies easy definition and blithely triumphs over what initially appears to be structural schizophrenia. It is the creation of a superior moviemaker who works eccentrically in the classical tradition.”
– Vincent Canby, The New York Times 

“Try to view this tale of a siren’s song as something chewier than a cover version of Hitch’s greatest hits, however, and what’s left is a facile take on l’amour fou. That doesn’t stop the stars, arguably at the peak of their impossible gorgeousness, from generating miraculous screen heat”
– David Fear, Time Out




Monday, July 18, 8:40

Film Forum