Mississippi Mermaid

Mississippi MermaidTonight I saw Mississippi Mermaid by Francois Truffaut, which I’d wanted to see for a while since I’m into noir and I just finished a book by Cornell Woolrich, whose work inspired both this film and another Truffaut movie that I very much enjoyed, The Bride Wore Black. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a clunker. It’s intended to be a sort of fable about a love story gone off the rails, beginning with an exotic island wedding and (Spoiler Alert!) ending in a poisonous Swiss blizzard, but it never quite manages to work up a steam.

For one thing, Jean-Paul Belmondo is kind of laughably far from being the hyper-masculine, hardened leading man which is such a common feature amongst most noirs and which would maybe make better sense in this role. Despite his star-making turn in Breathless, he just doesn’t have the charisma to pull it off and the audience at the screening often giggled during his wooden speeches, he so badly fit the dialogue and the character. For another thing, the chemistry between Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve was badly off, with the love story never building up the appropriate level of tension and magnetic energy which the movie needs for the plot to work. At best the romance achieves a sort of cheesy eroticism and at worst the lovers seem glaringly mismatched, nothing compared to the star-crossed loves from great noirs like Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

To make matters worse, there’s something very weird about the pacing of the film. The movie starts as a thick largo familiar from other films with a post-colonial setting; there are lingering shots of the jungle, the massive plantation house, and the local culture. But then it ultimately speeds into a headlong rush with the two hopping from place to place and filing in the gaps in the middle with rambling exposition. The transitions feel very patched in and ultimately, it feels like the film could stand some massive editing.

A move like this should roll forward like a roller coaster climbing up a hill, with the audience being drawn into the luminous essence of the affair while also being well-aware of the big fall closing in every moment. It should be lean, tight, and sharp with a natural momentum built in at the center of the action. Instead, there’s a rambling uncertainty about the whole thing: as though Truffaut can’t decide if he wants to make a real noir like The Bride Wore Black or an obtuse, slice-of-life musing on the illusory nature of love like in Jules and Jim. Altogether, a surprising disappointment from a darling of the French New Wave.

1 Response to “Mississippi Mermaid”

  1. 1 Poisonous Swiss Blizzard
    July 14, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Belmondo totally looks like he’s asleep in that screen cap. Which explains a lot of the problem with the movie- I kept waiting for him to stagger down dead with an aneurysm.

    He’s apparently from the “am I thinking, or did a blood vessel in my head explode?” school of acting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: