In my reviews of The Legend of Boggy Creek and Anna to the Infinite Power, I mentioned my fascination with Maitland McDonough’s old TV Guide column “Ask Flick Chick,” in which she answered questions about films in general and provided readers with the titles of films that had haunted their subconsciouses for decades. Both Creek and Anna were films that were frequently asked about, as individual readers remembered disparate elements from each, and there were several other movies that would reappear as the answer to a new question with some regularity. Another such film was Francois Truffaut’s La Mariée était en noir (The Bride Wore Black), in which a woman whose husband was killed on their wedding day seeks out and visits revenge upon the five men responsible, crossing out their names one-by-one in her notebook. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. There are certain obvious similarities to Kill Bill, although Quentin Tarantino is insistent that he has never seen the film. It’s not unreasonable that he plucked this idea from the ether, especially given his openness about the films from which he did draw ideas and images for Kill Bill, but I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not that was the case.
Julie (Jeanne Moreau) is prevented from leaping out of a high window by her mother. Unable to end her life, we see her begin to call upon and kill one man after another. The first, a reformed womanizer (Claude Rich) preparing for his wedding, is talked into attempting to retrieve her scarf from a precarious balcony ledge; she tells him who she is before she pushes him to his death. The next man she kills is a messy, lonely bachelor (Michel Bouquet) to whom she sends tickets for a musical performance; she poisons him even as he protests that her husband’s death was an accident. Her third victim is a would-be politician and unsympathetic adulterer; she traps him in a small closet and allows him to suffocate as he reveals the circumstances that led to her husband’s death: the group of men liked to hunt and chase skirts, so they would get together from time to time and play cards; one of them was showing off his rifle and another picked it up and shot Julie’s husband without realizing the gun was loaded. They then escaped in order to protect their futures and careers.
Julie is understandably unmoved by this confession, and moves on to Delvaux (Daniel Boulanger), but he is arrested for an unrelated crime before she can exact her revenge. She then ingratiates herself with the artist Fergus (Charles Denner), modelling for him as he slowly falls in love with her. Her initial attempts to kill him fail, but she eventually shoots him with a bow he gave her to use as a prop. By this time, a mutual friend of Fergus and her first victim, David (Serge Rousseau), has figured out the connection, and he has her arrested at Fergus’s funeral. The end of the film shows that this was part of her larger plan, as she is able to kill Delvaux on the inside of prison.
This is an almost perfect film. François Truffaut had just finished a long series of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, and this was his attempt to make a Hitchcockian thriller. Truffaut himself also expressed disappointment in this film for a long time, and it was only recently that this was revealed to have been due to artistic friction with cinematographer Raoul Coutard. Coutard worked with Truffaut previously but had worked with other directors in color before he and Truffaut reunited. As a result, they had conflicting ideas and the two would often have days-long arguments over composition and lighting that ultimately led to a very difficult shoot. Offscreen friction aside, however, this film has definitely only improved with age, featuring a uniquely French approach to the art of the mise-en-scene, which lends an air of the auteur to the film overall without forsaking the Hitchcockian elements that make it function as a mainstream picture as well.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond