Made during the period of François Truffaut’s fascination with Alfred Hitchcock, the French auteur’s La mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black, 1968) looks to the master of suspense for inspiration whilst showcasing Truffaut’s interests, including casting the iconic Jeanne Moreau as the titular ‘bride’, Julie Kohler. It is clear that the film inspired later female-centred revenge films – most notably Quentin Tarantino’s two-part Kill Bill saga (2003/2004), which also features a shooting at a wedding and a vengeful bride crossing names off a list, with a highly stylised aesthetic propelling the protagonist on her mission.
Penelope Houston cited the opening scenes of The Bride Wore Black in summarising the Hitchcock connection with Moreau’s character: “In the opening sequence, she is unmistakably playing Marnie: the half-packed suitcase, the neat little piles of bank notes, the doleful parting from mother and sister, and the moment when, having sadly boarded the train on one side, she ducks briskly down on the other and marches back along the platform (Marnie camera angles all around) on her errand of vengeance.”1 These opening moments also make us immediately intrigued about Moreau’s mysterious black-clad woman. Who is she? What does she plan to do? All this is accompanied by the music of Bernard Herrmann, one of Hitchcock’s key collaborators as well as the composer for Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966). Houston also noted an otherworldly quality about the bride: “when she turns up to commit her first murder […] Truffaut is already parting company with Hitchcock. The special quality of The Bride Wore Black, it’s apparent, is the floating airiness with which it dreams strange dreams.”2
Julie is often introduced like an apparition, as in the striking reveal of her in a white gown that flutters in the wind, which she wears when meeting Bliss (Claude Rich), the first man she hunts. Later, she suddenly appears, via a hard cut, in the apartment doorway of Coral (Michel Bouquet), the second man she seeks. It is worth noting that some of the most memorable introductions of lead women in Hitchcock films are dreamlike, as when Grace Kelly leans in to kiss James Stewart in Rear Window (1954), or when Kim Novak, her back to the viewer, sits in a restaurant in Vertigo (1958). Moreau’s introductions here are ethereal, but more shocking than romanticised, perhaps more akin to the sudden appearances of the murderous ‘mother’ in Psycho.
Moreau presents an impassive visage that occasionally suggests a seductive smile or simmering anger. As Jan Dawson noted: “She kills without guilt, but also without any obvious emotion […] and in the face of her detachment, her multiple murders appear not gruesome, but merely as tidy and efficient stages in a necessary plan.”3 Julie plays on the male characters’ romantic view of women as mysterious, wreaking vengeance upon the five men linked to the shooting of her husband (Serge Rousseau), coldly and calculatingly assuming suitable roles that will entice them.
Around halfway through the film, after Julie encounters the third man, Morane (Michael Lonsdale), her careful plan (in a story structure later mirrored in Kill Bill: Volume 2) starts to falter, starting with the wrongful arrest of Miss Becker (Alexandra Stewart) for murder (Julie having assumed the latter’s identity in order to deceive Morane); the reappearance of Bliss’ friend Corey (Jean-Claude Brialy); and the arrest of Delvaux (Daniel Boulanger), the fourth target. A key sequence in the second half contrasts the lone Julie – dimly lit, coldly confessing her feelings – with Miss Becker, framed by a daytime wide shot, surrounded by cheering schoolchildren, happy and free. Julie’s mission of vengeance, while understandable, has isolated her from society.
When Julie moves swiftly on to finding the fifth man, Fergus (Charles Denner), her plan seems back on track. He is an artist, and she goes to his studio posing as a model. In the studio, she sees a painting of a black-haired woman with a face similar to hers, and she appropriates this look for Fergus. The painting is like a premonition dreamt up by the artist, while also being a sign that Julie’s fate is preordained. Later, she poses as Diana the Huntress, armed with a bow and arrow. Interestingly, while the film is titled The Bride Wore Black, the ‘bride’ wears white as well as black, embodying light and darkness. As Annette Insdorf has observed, “In this color film, she wears only black and white; her clothes represent her absolutism – the purity of her motives, the darkness of her deeds.”4
Like Fahrenheit 451, this film sees Truffaut assuming a more observational approach to character and experimenting with different filmmaking techniques, rather than the more naturalistic acting and style seen in his earlier classics like Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows, 1959). In fact, The Bride Wore Black could be interpreted as a film about how films are constructed and how they use artifice to create roles and scenarios. One instance of this is Julie’s roleplaying, with Insdorf arguing, “The unique handling of each murder renders her an artist of sorts: she fulfills and therefore assumes a different role for each victim, and is consistently a convincing actress; she is also a fine metteur-en-scene, engineering props and movements for maximum effectiveness.”5 We see Julie as a surrogate actor/producer/director throughout, adopting roles, scouting locations and ‘directing’ actors (for example, casting Bliss as a gallant gentlemen in a romantic fiction, but in actuality setting into motion a murderous scenario she has created).
Referring to the film’s conclusion, Insdorf makes an acute observation on Truffaut’s direction: “Unlike Hitchcock, he never lets us see a violent murder – the last knifing is presented as an off-screen scream – and perhaps demands a more intellectual than physical response.”6 This might explain the remote feel of the characters and the more analytical approach that Truffaut seems to take to this material, which suggests that viewers should perhaps approach The Bride Wore Black as a study of Hitchcock films made by an ardent admirer. Like the Hitchcock interview book by Truffaut, this story could be viewed as an examination of Hitchcockian tropes, a cinematic tribute by one filmmaking master towards another.
La mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black, 1968 France 107 mins)
Prod Co: Les Films du Carrosse; Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica Prod: Marcel Berbert, Oscar Lewenstein Dir: François Truffaut Scr: François Truffaut, Jean-Louis Richard Phot: Raoul Coutard Ed: Claudine Bouché Prod Des: Pierre Guffroy Mus: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Michel Bouquet, Jean-Claude Brialy, Charles Denner, Claude Rich, Michael Lonsdale, Daniel Boulanger, Alexandra Stewart
- Penelope Houston, “Hitchcockery,” Sight & Sound (Autumn 1968, vol. 37, no. 4): p. 188. ↩
- Houston, “Hitchcockery”, p. 188. ↩
- Jan Dawson, “Mariée était en Noir, La (The Bride Wore Black)”, Monthly Film Bulletin (September 1968, vol. 35, no. 416), p. 133. ↩
- Annette Insdorf, François Truffaut (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 58. ↩
- Insdorf, François Truffaut, p. 59. ↩
- Insdorf, François Truffaut, p. 62. ↩