30 April 2010
The Bride Wore Black
Francois Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black (La mariée était en noir, 1968) is a neo-noir, dramatic thriller about Julie (Jeanne Moreau), a young widow seeking revenge for the wrongful death of her husband David (Serge Rousseau). Five men killed David on his wedding day. The film pays homage to both Hitchcock and Renoir. I saw Hitchcock’s influence in the film, but I did not see Renoir’s. According to movies.tvguide.com, Renoir’s influence is "the dark humor that stems from the portrayal of the chauvinist male characters and the sympathy for them and Julie" (movies.tvguide.com). On the other hand, Hitchcock’s influence includes Bernard Hermann as composer (IMDB), and Truffaut’s choice to use Cornell Woolrich’s novel because Rear Window (1954) was based on it (IMDB). A Renoir versus Hitchcock film, the final verdict on this film comes from Roger Ebert who says that it fails as a “Hitchcock thriller,” but it does achieve a balance, a “marriage” between French New Wave and Hollywood Tradition (rogerebert.suntimes.com). This “marriage” that Roger Ebert describes must be the lucrative conservatism that Guy Austin was referring to when he said, “By the middle of the decade, however, Truffaut had become much more conservative in terms of both narrative structure and genre, a development which resulted in his becoming the most commercially successful film-maker to come out of la nouvelle vague” (Austin, 15). Though Bride does have hallmarks of traditional Hollywood cinema, it is still a New Wave “French” film because it was modestly budgeted, used real locations, and experimented with narrative elements such as flashbacks and camerawork.
Truffaut repeatedly incorporates certain plot elements such as flashbacks and camerawork into his film. Some shots and plot elements that were featured in The Bride Wore Black can be seen in Truffaut’s earlier films such as The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups, 1959) and Shoot the Piano Player (Tirez sur le pianist, 1960). Truffaut uses a long, low angle bird’s eye view like shots in Shoot the Piano Player (“Piano”) and The Bride Wore Black for dramatic effect, and after 400 Blows, Truffaut always seems to incorporate this shot as part of the plot. In Piano, Edouard looks out the window and sees his wife dead on the ground from an apparent suicide, and in Bride, the men were looking at Julie and David through the window. Unlike Bride and Piano, the shot was used to chronicle Dionel’s run in gym class, which wasn’t very important narrative wise but could be argued to be a part of his character seeing as he is always in trouble and victimized by authority. In fact, his gym teacher leads the run in the scene.
I personally found Bride’s plot easier to follow than Piano’s. Both Bride and Piano use flashbacks, but when Bride uses them, it is easy to distinguish the time because the flashback is justified within the narrative. Though the cuts are usually abrupt, the flashbacks are justified through dialogue or action, and they are short, whereas in Piano, the audience discovers that a long part of the movie is a flashback and told out of order. In fact the flashback, which shows how Edouard became a professional piano player, met his wife, and how he ended up working in a bar after her death, could have been made into a separate film. So the audience is stuck with asking the question, “Why wasn’t it?” The long flashback doesn’t make much sense here, but in Bride, it does. Truffaut only uses the essential elements of David’s death to tell the story in Bride. Though repetitive due to Julie’s persistence and obsession, Truffaut adds different shots to the basic plot of the flashback to mimic the real world telling of a story. When new details are added to David’s death such as the motive, it is seen in the flashback.
Besides flashbacks and the camerawork, I found how Truffaut represented gender in Bride interesting. Some shots depict women’s sexuality. For example, Julie’s legs are seen in a close-up as she slowly comes down the stairs. According to Austin, this is the “archetypal Truffaudian shot” that depicts femme fatale women (Austin, 60). From the close-up, the camera cuts to a medium shot of Morane (Michel Lonsdale) watching her. Soon afterwards, he invites her to stay, which implies sex as his wife is away. Compared to Piano, Bride is more graphic in its portrayal of women. Towards the end of the film, Julie meets one of the murderers Fergus (Charles Denner). Fergus is a sensitive painter and is similar in build and sensitive nature to Edouard/Charlie from Piano. Julie poses as Diana the Huntress for him. According to theworldwonders.com, Diana is a Greek Goddess known for her “masculine” beauty, hunting skills, and virginity. Fergus is dissatisfied with her body and says he is not attracted to her. As a result, he is able to talk about his love life in front of her. Surprisingly, he falls in love with her as time goes on. Because of her portrayal of Diana, the art critics automatically assume she is naive and a virgin, which is partially true as Julie’s ideal man is gone, and she will never consider marrying another and moving on with her life. “Diana” is the ideal woman that Fergus and the other men say they do not want but secretly desire. Most of the men that Julie meets either falls in love with her or becomes charmed by her. They are all chance shallow womanizers as Morane explained before suffocating to death, “The only thing we had in common was hunting and women” (Truffaut, The Bride Wore Black). This whole movie could be read as a loss of innocence and as the “hunter becoming the hunted” situation. All these men preyed on women, and ironically, Julie would have been killed instead of David if the other men did not fight with the gunman.
Finally, I like how Truffaut integrated animation and photos into the film. As Fergus physically adjusts Julies pose as Diana (medium shot and medium close-up), the camera cuts to a close-up of the finished drawing of the body part that was adjusted. For example, first Fergus adjusts her stance. Then, the camera cuts to a picture, showing her lower leg. Some of the adjusting is animated. All the drawings are black and white. This is an interesting way to depict women’s sexuality. It is graphic in a different sense from how they are depicted in today’s cinema. It’s interesting and more experimental than the usual cues of sexiness such as Julie’s short tunic costume for Diana and other revealing clothing that Julie wears or the large naked portrait (painted completely by Fergus’ memory without having seen her naked). The large portrait is another interesting note as it is what helps the police capture her in the end. She had a chance to destroy it, but she doesn’t. Though the actual reason is still unclear, I think it is so that she can kill the last man who is in jail.
In conclusion, I enjoyed The Bride Wore Black because it is a well shot film with interesting plot elements and editing. I enjoyed the film’s “American” feel thanks to the Hitchcock elements such as Hermann’s music, evil events taking place in daytime and happiness, and unexpected situations (rogerebert.suntimes.com) and film noir elements. Despite these elements, The Bride Wore Black can still be called a French New Wave film because Truffaut takes earlier plot elements such as flashbacks, camerawork, and concepts such as women’s bodily sexual portrayal and improves them. He explores and makes better use of these elements to tell a better story, perhaps not the ones serious film critics and academics like but the ones that audiences find accessible and enjoyable. Personally, I enjoyed this film better than Shoot the Piano Player and The 400 Blows.
- · Austin, Guy. Contemporary French Cinema: an Introduction. 2nd ed. Manchester, UK: Manchester UP, 2008. Print.
- · "The Bride Wore Black Review." TV Guide.com. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. <http://movies.tvguide.com/bride-wore-black/review/120111>.
- · "The Bride Wore Black." TCM Turner Classic Movies. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. <http://www.tcm.com/thismonth/article.jsp?cid=236432&mainArticleId=246633>.
- · Ebert, Roger. "The Bride Wore Black :: Rogerebert.com :: Reviews." Rogerebert.com. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. <http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19681009/REVIEWS/810090301/1023>.
- · Internet Movie Database. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054389/>. Shoot The Piano Player
- · Internet Movie Database. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058898/>. Alphaville
- · The Internet Movie Database. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060675/>. Masculin, Féminin
- · The Internet Movie Database. Web. 28 Apr. 2010. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061955/>. The Bride Wore Black
- · "Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome-Artemis (Diana)." The World Wonders .Com. Web. 30 Apr. 2010. <http://www.theworldwonders.com/mythology/myths-legends19-artemis.html>.