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DVD SAVANT

Another Restoration: MISSISSIPPI MERMAID


--- John Kirk puts 13 minutes back into Francois Truffaut's tale of murder.
Note: the 2001 DVD from MGM is said to be this extended, never-before-on-video version! GE 1/2/2001)


Film restoration can be as simple as calling the right person and asking the right questions. Or simply listening to the right person. MGM Film Archivist John Kirk was talking to a London film laboratory earlier in the year, inquiring about striking a new print of Francois Truffaut's 1969 Mississippi Mermaid. The American Cinematheque wanted to screen it for a series of 'French Crime' films. Adapted from a novel by well-known thriller writer Cornell Woolrich, Mermaid is one of Truffaut's excellent noirish murder mysteries. Unlike the New Wave approach of his Shoot the Piano Player or The Bride Wore Black with its classic allusions, Mermaid is a low-key character study casting its two stars, Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo, completely against expectations.

What John found out from his London call led to an unexpected turn of events. The lab agent asked if MGM wanted the long, or the short version of the film. It seems that for the United States, Mississippi Mermaid was cut from 123 to 110 minutes, a fact Kirk could verify by a simple check back to reference books (even Maltin's guide). The London agent could make a print, but suggested that an even better quality negative source could be had in Paris.

Fortunately, John had the experience to know exactly what to do. A new 35mm subtitled print was struck. Since English subtitles did not exist for the extra 13 minutes, John translated the French dialog, and subtitles were added to the print by a company which specializes in that work called Cinetyp. As part of the restoration, John also reedited a letterboxed video version (Mermaid was filmed in the French anamorphic process called Dyaliscope), to make the film available for television and home video.

When Mississippi repremiered at the American Cinematheque in July of 1998, Truffaut fans were treated to a revelation, a longer version of one of their favorites. The film gained back seven scenes, six entirely new and one extension of an existing scene. Only one of the cuts, a brief establishing montage of the city of Lyon, is not a character scene. Judging by the content of the cut material, it is puzzling what the snippers hoped to achieve - the cuts must have been made for time and nothing else. Among the restored material:

Two minutes from Belmondo and Deneuve's first tentative meeting scene, driving back to his plantation on the island of Reunion. How odd to cut most of their first meeting...


Getting To Know You - restored.

In France, they are shown a rental house. Deneuve's less-than-demure manners are evident when she sprawls splay-legged onto a sofa. A little less than a minute in length.


The mamselle is trouble, Jean-Paul.

A very important intimate scene by a fireplace, where Belmondo expresses his fascination with Deneuve's character, explaining how he could throw away his entire established life for her, as he describes her face. Just under five minutes.


Why men do crazy things for love.

An addition to an argument scene where Belmondo criticizes Deneuve's selfish coldness. In the extension, he rails about a certain kind of vain, using woman, 'That can be found in airports', ending by throwing his watch and jewelry at her. 'Take them, pawn them, that's what you want.' Two minutes.


Amour Fou: the tantrum.

A key scene for Deneuve, where she cuts a personal voice record in a shop, a confession she is unable to speak directly. As the scene provides one of the few glimpses of a Deneuve with a conscience and a heart, it is sorely missed. It is also curiously similar to a scene with Martin Sheen in Terence Malick's Badlands, made six years later. Two minutes.


Some honest thoughts in wax.

The word of the Mississippi Mermaid restoration has already circulated; it is scheduled for showings at the Art Institute in Chicago in September and at the Film Forum in NYC sometime in the fall.

Films have often been shortened for censorship reasons, or reedited in search of a commercial version. Mississippi Mermaid is a French-language arthouse film whose American audience probably wanted little more than to see Francois Truffaut's work uncut. Why those in charge saw fit to chop it up is anyone's guess. The arrogance of those who mutilate perfectly good movies, often leaving memories of the originals to fade away, is still evident today. Art films, such as Like Water for Chocolate and the wonderful Jackie Chan films, all deserve a better fate.


A restored moment Americans never saw.

Text © Copyright 1998 Glenn Erickson.


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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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