Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Bride Wore Black (François Truffaut, 1967)

Homme Wrecker

François Truffaut prescribed to Sam Fuller’s belief that “film is a battleground.”

If his involvement in the 1968 French student revolution didn’t prove it, his own films certainly did.

Truffaut fought for cinema with cinema.

Although his celluloid nature was seemingly calm, gentle and often pastoral in tone and shade, upon closer scrutiny: a composition was a target, a cut was an act of violence, a story was the doorway into darkness -- beyond that which resides within the soul of its characters and into that of the storyteller himself -- and perhaps a great majority of his audience.

No better example of this deceptive stylist whose art existed somewhere in-between the melancholic light of Impressionism (say, of Jean Renoir) and the fatalistically twisted shadows of Expressionism (Fritz Lang) --

-- guided with cruel, calculated confidence down this pathway of infinite cinematic opportunity by Truffaut’s acknowledged lord and master, Alfred Hitchcock, would be his adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s Roman noir, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK.

Filmed without an obvious shadow in sight, it tells the tale of a disraught widow who exacts deadly revenge on the five men responsible for the assassination of her husband on the very day of their wedding.

BRIDE is full of both narrative and visual surprises. The greatest, notwithstanding, is an outstanding dummy-death within the film’s first 20 minutes!


Jeanne Moreau attends an engagement party on a breezy, sunny day in a posh apartment overlooking the sparkling, blue sea.

Alone on a balcony, she speaks to the betrothed man -- a pathological womanizer named Bliss (Claude Rich), presenting herself as a woman of mystery --

-- dressed in white -- an exterior blank slate that reflects an inner blank slate -- her secret trauma having hollowed her out emotionally -- enabling her to kill without any emotion or remorse --

-- her virginal white, once her secret is known, summons the possibility that she was, perhaps, a virgin on her wedding day -- the violence to come acting as a grim substitution for the conjugal consumation of marriage of which she was deprived.

Even though Bliss tells her that he finds his fianceé attractive, he also admits to finding Moreau “fascinating”.

She casts her scarf over the railing, where it snags itself on the awning support post.

She strikes a bargain with Bliss (a bargain with Death?): retrieve her scarf and she will reveal her true identity.

He climbs over the balcony’s railing -- perched precariously hundreds of feet off the ground.

As he turns his back on her, she steals a glance over at the far corner of the balcony where we watch -- invisible -- implicating the audience in her impending crime or moreso, as if to ask, “Are you going to stop me?”

As the camera dollies back away from her, she has her answer.

Outside the relative safety of the railing, he contemplates, for the first time, the danger of the situation --

-- the physical danger, ironically -- not the danger of an overt flirtation with a beautiful woman at his engagement party.

As Bliss looks back to her, he now seems to instinctively sense that she is potentially just as dangerous as an accidental plummet to the pavement.

His instinct is quickly affirmed as the morose Moreau holds up her end of the bargain: “I am Julie Kohler.” A phrase that indicates a secret yet to be explained to the viewer, but one that speaks miles to the man, who will momentarily fall something short of a mile to his death.

As she steps forward, Truffaut sutures the audience’s point of view with Kohler’s.

Up to this point, the audience has been made to believe that they can witness the impending spectacle from the safety of a detached vantage point --

-- but Truffaut has other, more sadistic plans for all involved.

We are now the assassins --

-- and the only ones not yet clued into why we are perpetrating/assisting with this crime.

Moreau/Kohler advances on Rich/Bliss with her hands extended in a “push” formation --

-- one that eventually resembles the way a director would poise his hands to “frame” action in front of him --

-- another visual indication of Kohler’s emotional distance from her act of revenge/murder.

The shot also signals a major cinematic deception -- it is seen from the point of view of Bliss as Kohler moves in for the kill -- the transformation of audience/murderer into audience/victim.

Then, Truffaut switches immediately to the point of view of an objective observer --

-- before returning to the point of view of Bliss during free-fall --

Here begins Truffaut’s next deception: the transformation from man into dummy.
He, once again, exchanges our point of view with the falling man -- this time, with that of an unidentified observer on the ground.

And then, again, with the point of view of the spiraling Bliss --

-- and then directly again with that of the murderer.

Truffaut tags on a coda to this sequence --

-- one that involves an additional double substitution/transformation:

A sympathetic symbol of flight/freedom far from the "usual" gloomy image of a post murder aftermath -- an example for comparison would be Norman Bates' anxiety-ridden clean-up after his messy murder of Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960).

Kohler's released/escaping "spirit" is transferred to the scarf released/escaping from it's bondage on the awning support post which then "transforms" into a jet containing Kohler who is flying to her next "victim". Her point of view soars above the clouds, like a bird of prey surveying its' future killing grounds.

A poignant and poetic illustration of a woman in transition -- healing from deep internal wounds inflicted by men who are destined to die as the dummies they literally are.

"I am Julie Kohler..."

post © Howard S. Berger & Kevin Marr


jmichaelfulton said...

Great post! I saw The Bride Wore Black last night.

I agree with you on the scarf motif, it embodied freedom and release. The end of Bladerunner comes to mind as well.

The Flying Maciste Brothers said...

Thanks JMF!
Excellent association to Blade Runner, as well! Both Bride and Blade are about vengeance with conscience, reflection and regret.