Sunday, March 02, 2014

Mississippi Mermaid

Based on the novel Waltz Into Darkness by William Irish, La sirene du Mississippi (Mississippi Mermaid) is the story about a tobacco planter who becomes engaged to a woman he never met yet corresponded with during his time at Reunion Island at the Indian Ocean. Written for the screen and directed by Francois Truffaut, the film is an exploration into love and identity where a man wonders if the woman he marries is the one he had been communicating with. Starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. La sirene du Mississippi is a thrilling yet engaging film from Francois Truffaut.

The film is a simple story set at Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar where a French tobacco plantation owner is set to marry a woman he never met yet only corresponded through letters. Upon meeting her, he is baffled by the fact that she looks nothing like the picture he had been carrying yet is still infatuated with her. When he receives a letter from her sister, his suspicions are raised as he learned that his money has been taken and his bride has disappeared. With the help of a private investigator, Louis Mahe (Jean-Paul Belmondo) travels to France to find the woman who claimed to be Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve) where their subsequent meeting would reveal some strange truths and such that would complicate things.

It’s a film that plays like a conventional thriller with lots of twists and turns but there’s an element to the story that makes it far more unique in the fact that it’s also a love story between this man and a woman who pretended to be another woman so she can steal his money. Even as the second act has Louis and Julie, whose real name turned out to be Marion Vergano, go on an adventure of their own while trying to avoid people who could be suspicious of them. Especially when it involves the presence of the private investigator Louis and Julie’s actual sister had hired where it creates lots of complications for Louis and Marion as the third act has the two bickering at each other with very little options of what to do. It all plays to the idea of love and how two people are brought together by dark circumstances only to come together in ways that is unexplained.

Francois Truffaut’s direction is very mesmerizing for not just the way he portrays Reunion Island as a place onto itself where it is very unique. It’s also in the fact that he creates a film that is filled with an array of style yet keeping true to the story. Much of it would feature film stock about the island as well as some offbeat pacing in the way Truffaut approaches the suspense. Especially as he is more concerned about the characters and Marion’s motivation into stealing from Louis where it reveals to be much more complicated than it actually is. Truffaut’s compositions and some of the scenes he creates are definitely lively such as a long shot set inside a car where Marion and Louis try to get some money only to realize that the police are at the hotel they were staying in.

The atmosphere that Truffaut creates at Reunion Island is very serene and exotic while the scenes set in France in cities like Lyon and Nice is far more chaotic considering that it’s a world that Louis hasn’t been to very much which is weird considering that he’s a modern guy that drives a nice car. Especially since he was a man of importance at Reunion Island while being this oddball in France where it’s a place that Marion can handle things. Things become more intense in terms of the suspense and drama in the third act as Truffaut would make things much more simpler into what Louis and Marion have to do but also the sense of internal conflict between the two where they despise each other but also love each other. Overall, Truffaut creates a very fascinating film about a man who marries a woman that steals his money but has also captured his heart.

Cinematographer Denys Clerval does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from the lush look of the scenes set at Reunion Island to the more vibrant yet colder look of France in its exteriors and interior scenes. Editor Agnes Guillemot does brilliant work with the editing in its emphasis on style from jump-cuts, montages, and such to play with the film‘s pacing as well as its approach to suspense. Production designer Claude Pignot does fantastic work with the look of the home that Louis lived in as well as some of the hotels and homes that he and Marion stayed in during their time in France.

The gorgeous dresses worn by Julie/Marion are made by Yves Saint-Laurent as they have a sense of style to the way Julie/Marion portray themselves throughout the film. The sound work of Rene Levert is terrific for the calm atmosphere of Reunion Island as well as the sense of chaos for the locations in France. The film’s music by Antoine Duhamel is superb for its orchestral-driven score that has some serene moments but also some eerie moments for the film’s suspense.

The film’s amazing cast includes some notable small performances from Marcel Berbetas as Louis’ friend/business advisor Jardine, Nelly Borgeaud as Julie’s sister Berthe who would arrive to the island and ask for the help of a private detective, and Michel Bouquet as the private detective Comolli who goes on the search to find out what really happened to Julie Roussel and who is the imposter. Finally, there’s the performances of Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo in their respective roles as Julie Roussel/Marion Vergano and Louis Mahe as both of them are incredible. Deneuve has this entrancing sexuality and ferocity that makes her very unique in playing a woman who steals from a man she marries only to become conflicted. Belmondo is very restrained in his performance as a man who is aloof by what has happened to him but becomes aware of the fact that he still might be played. Deneuve and Belmondo are just remarkable to watch as they are really major highlights of the film.

La sirene du Mississippi is a ravishing film from Francois Truffaut that features top-notch performances from Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve. While it’s a more genre-based film that most of Truffaut’s more unconventional films, it is still a fascinating piece for the way he approaches suspense as well as the complexities of love. In the end, La sirene du Mississippi is a phenomenal film from Francois Truffaut.

Francois Truffaut Films: The 400 Blows - Shoot the Piano Player - Jules & Jim - Antoine & Colette - The Soft Skin - Fahrenheit 451 - The Bride Wore Black - Stolen Kisses - The Wild Child - Bed and Board - Two English Girls - Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me - Day for Night - The Story of Adele H. - Small Change - The Man Who Loved Women - The Green Room - Love on the Run - The Last Metro - The Woman Next Door - Confidentially Yours

The Auteur #40: Francois Truffaut (Pt. 1) - (Pt. 2)

© thevoid99 2014

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