The Bride in Black Review

By Renata Adler
Published: June 26, 1968
Source: NY times

Even working lightly, on a film not his best in a genre not his own, François Truffaut is such a rare talent that one knows instantly, as soon as the credits for The Bride Wore Black appear on screen, that this is what movies are about, this is how they can be done, this is why so few people do them beautifully. The movie is technically a suspense and horror film—a tribute to Alfred Hitchcock, with whom Truffaut did a fascinating book of interviews last year—in which Jeanne Moreau murders a number of gentlemen. But Truffaut is such a poetic filmmaker that the film turns around and becomes, not at all Hitchcockian, but a gentle comedy and one of the few plausible and strange love stories in a long time.

Miss Moreau murders five men in all—Claude Rich, Michel Bouquet, Michael Lonsdale, Daniel Boulanger, and Charles Denner—and every one of them is a gem of characterization, lines witty and right, acting subtle and thought out, the decor of their lives and even the manner of their deaths inventive and expressive of personality. Miss Moreau herself, who is always dressed in black or in white (this is a color film) has to maintain a kind of Mademoiselle and Kriemhild deadpan in an uncharacteristically young unsensual role and does it fine. Alexandra Stewart as a schoolteacher, Jean-Claude Brialy as a friend, even Frederique and Renaud Fontanarosa playing musicians (which they are), every member of the cast gives a performance that makes other people’s movies seem keyed loose and out of tune.

There are all kinds of little things: the look of fear that crosses the expression of Claude Rich when he thinks he is going to be pushed off a balcony, then the look of embarrassment over this silly fear, then his look as he falls; Michel Lonsdale’s minute, self-satisfied nod toward his Légion d’Honneur lapel; a small, perfectly timed clapping of the hands, in a game of hide-and-seek by Christophe Brunot, a little boy from whom Truffaut gets the best child performance since Alain Cohen’s in The Two of Us. (Ever since Jean-Pierre Léaud’s performance in Truffaut’s first film, The 400 Blows, the director has had a special gift with children.) The boy knows an adult is being misled; his behavior toward adults, suspicious, canny, stubborn, terrified, amused, is one of the most remarkable evocations of certain moments in certain childhoods on screen.

The photography is by Raoul Coutard—who also did Truffaut’s 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, and Shoot the Piano Player!—and it, too, is beautifully and carefully worked out. A sign of the absolute confidence one has in every moment of the film is that, although one of the killings is done by high-powered rifle, from a window to the street, the movie recovers from real associations to that act almost at once. Everything is so clearly the result of thought and wit; this is, for a change, a film in which it is pure pleasure to be alert. One does not want to review the refinements of the plot away. It is not a great, great picture but it is touching and fun at a level so much higher than other films that it is just a great relief to have it to see. The film opened yesterday at the Festival Theater.


Directed by François Truffaut; written (in French, with English subtitles) by Mr. Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich (as William Irish); cinematographer, Raoul Coutard; edited by Claudine Bouché; music by Bernard Herrmann; art designer, Pierre Guffroy; produced by Marcel Berbert; released by Lopert Pictures. Running time: 107 minutes.

With: Jeanne Moreau (Julie), Jean-Claude Brialy (Corey), Michel Bouquet (Coral), Charles Denner (Fergus), Claude Rich (Bliss), Daniel Boulanger (Holmes), and Michel Lonsdale (Morane).

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