The Bride Wore Black (1968)
Directed by François Truffaut
Spectacularly unconvincing in spite of its fervid, repetitive, tropically overheated prose, Cornell Woolrich's extremely rococo noir novel The Bride Wore Black—concerning a mysterious beauty committing a string of revenge murders or befuddled, enraptured, seemingly unrelated men—must be read to be believed, but even then... François Truffaut’s adaptation wears its implausibility more lightly: it's a traipse through genre-movie contrivance, with composer Bernard Herrmann's self-quoting violins punctuating Truffaut's usual casually intimate run-on storytelling. It's ultimately a one-joke movie, but the one joke is a good one, with a long and distinguished cinematic pedigree: How easy it is for a pretty woman to ingratiate herself with a naturally self-regarding man.
The opening credits play over a printing press mass-producing painted nude postcards of star Jeanne Moreau, and idolatrous objectification's uncertain balance of powers is maintained as Moreau's Julie appears as the female ideal of sadsack Michel Bouquet, with his wistful pinup posters, and shows up to play artist's model for painter and serial seducer Charles Denner, who's already produced paintings that resemble her (the former she poisons during private cocktails in his dingy rented room; the latter poses her as Diana, the huntress, complete with bow and arrow, though her arms are getting tired...). Her abrupt, easy appearance in their lives (for operatic reasons revealed gradually in flashback) is Truffaut having fun with both Woolrich's tottering tower of coincidences, and these men who love women, so much so that they never question why their fantasy has shown on up their doorstep so letter-perfect, unbidden, and moonily impressed: soon-to-marry womanizer Claude Rich takes it as a given that a woman in a white evening gown would try to bribe the porter to be let up to his room; she's a perfect helpmate to industrialist Michel Lonsdale, who doesn't stop to question the convenience of his son's kindergarten teacher showing up to take over dinner, put his son to bed and endure his political positions while the wife's away; she dresses up as a gun moll for criminally connected scrapyard owner Daniel Boulanger. All the while, Jean-Claude Brialy, who plays wingman to a couple of her victims, and talks about his lovely interchangeable women in the casually sexist and self-centered pleasure-seeking tone that was one of Romanticism's less pleasant manifestations, can't figure out why she looks so familiar.
With its clumsy or elided violence, The Bride Wore Black is a bit too insouciant to qualify as any kind of serious confession from Truffaut, but it's more self-aware than most lady-vengeance pictures (along with Lady Snowblood, it's of course a major template for Kill Bill). The way Moreau asks for a man to bring her a glass of water, which she immediately pours into a potted plant, is funny and formidable, but Truffaut doesn't make her into a fetish object who kicks ass in dominatrix boots or anything—quite the opposite. After Moreau kills the painter, she cuts her face out of all his canvasses—no muse, she, even despite Jules and Jim swoonily comparing her face to classical statuary. Still, Truffaut has Julie hesitate before the nude painting on the wall over the artist's bed—the basis for the postcard in the opening credits.
Opens November 4 at Film Forum