Sunday, February 8, 2009

THE BRIDE WORE BLACK (François Truffaut, 1968, France) Julie Kohler preserves her marital vows, an oath taken only moments before the fatal gunshot, as the cruel shroud of death parts her from her childhood love. After a failed suicide attempt, Julie becomes cold and inhuman, possessed of a vengeful spirit who seeks cruel justice at the cost of her very soul. Julie Kohler’s husband was murdered on the steps of the church, and she will find, seduce, and murder those responsible for her husband’s death. François Truffaut creates an undulating homage to Hitchcock: he ingrains the film with subtle allusions such as train motifs (STRANGERS ON A TRAIN), an art gallery (NORTH BY NORTHWEST), debilitating obsession (VERTIGO), the suspense of an unanswered phone (DIAL M FOR MURDER), a concert hall (THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH), and most of all, the film is fantastically scored by Bernard Herrmann. His music adds a bittersweet aftertaste, and vertiginous unease to the narrative, with an ambiance reflective of his work with Hitchcock. But this is no crude remake or parody; Truffaut develops the film with his own sensual style and embraces his peer without puerile imitation. While the performances are fine, the film ultimately implodes upon its own implausible logic and sterile characterizations. Julie’s husband was accidentally shot from a room across the street from the church: how does she ever discover the names of the five strangers? Was there ever a police investigation? When she traps one of the suspects in a darkened room, he explains the accidental shooting: does this justify her brutal killings? When she finally allows herself to be arrested, what are the chances she is incarcerated with the remaining fugitive…a four-time murderess allowed access to a knife? Truffaut only briefly exposes the audience to Julie before the tragedy, and we never see her as a human being. While the killers are selfish and ignorant, not wanting to jeopardize their careers, they are guilty but her punishment seems too harsh for the crime. This distances us from Julie and we lose sympathy for her dilemma, the only interest being what new infernal device will she think of next? Julie’s success is coldly academic, like Truffaut’s frigid intellectual tribute to his colleague. (D)

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