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Mississippi Mermaid

Twilight Time // PG // June 9, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Screenarchives]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted July 1, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Mississippi Mermaid is a French film-noir from acclaimed filmmaker François Truffaut (Jules and Jim, The 400 Blows, Day For Night). It was adapted for the screen from the novel Waltz into Darkness, which was written by Cornell Woolrich. Truffaut wrote the screenplay (along with additional script contributions by Michel Bouquet) and directed the film. It was produced by Marcel Berbert (Jean de Florette, The Last Metro).

Louis Mahe (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a wealthy owner of a tobacco plantation factory and is eagerly awaiting the meeting of his soon-to-be bride Julie Roussel (Catherine Deneuve). He hasn't previously met her as they communicated by the personal columns of a French paper. Mahe finally meets Roussel and she looks nothing like what he expected. Even so, they are quickly married.

As it turns out, Julie Roussel is actually someone named Marion Vergano. She steals Mahe's finances. Louis Mahe is devastated by this but he seeks out his bride. Over the course of the story, a decidedly strange romance ensues between Louis Mahe and Marion Vergano after reuniting during the course of the film.

The performances help to carry the film. As the screenplay and storyline is actually not very focused on plot, a lot of effort is expected from the performers. Truffaut brings good acting forward from both screen-legends: Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve play well opposite one another and make the film more interesting together. It is a effective pairing demonstrating the immense talents of both Belmondo and Deneuve.

The music score is by Antoine Duhamel (Stolen Kisses, Bed & Board, Pierrot le Fou). The musical backdrop of the film is quite creative and effective. The score is rather nice and is complementary to the filmmaking. It is also a good accompaniment to the cinematography created by Denys Clerval (Stolen Kisses). The visual aesthetic of the film is surprising. The filmmaking is certainly film noir but unlike most film-noir productions of the time this was produced entirely in color. The bleakness of the visual palette still helps to convey the style.

The screenplay and direction by François Truffaut is much different from the bulk of the work done by the acclaimed filmmaker. While Truffaut is mainly remembered for his sensitive and emotional filmmaking, Mississippi Mermaid showcases a different side of the filmmaker. The film shares more in common with an effort like The Bride Wore Black than The 400 Blows or Day for Night.

One of Truffaut's favorite filmmakers was Alfred Hitchcock. (He even wrote a book in which he interviewed him.) Mississippi Mermaid showcases a darker style of storytelling influenced by Hitchcock. This film is far more focused on a dark exploration of romance than the sunny outlook and journey in some of Truffaut's more popular works. The story is a decidedly dark one done in a film-noir style that focuses on the metaphorical highs-and-lows of romance.

Unfortunately, Mississippi Mermaid doesn't rank that well alongside the great classics by Hitchcock which Truffaut was undoubtedly aspiring towards emulating. The characters are interesting but unlikeable. The journey taken often feels laborious. While the metaphor of the film certainly works as intended it doesn't stop Mississippi Mermaid from being one of the least enjoyable films by Truffaut. The usual magic and enchantment of Truffaut's style was replaced with a decidedly dark cynicism which feels far-removed from his greatest filmmaking efforts. The effort undertaken here feels more appreciable for its artistic ambition than for the end-result. The Blu-ray:

Video:

Mississippi Mermaid arrives on Blu-ray for the first time from Twilight Time. It is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. The release is 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded. The presentation has a strong bit-rate and demonstrates good encoding quality but suffers from the relatively poor quality of the source.

Though the release is a reasonable high-definition upgrade it certainly doesn't represent one of Twilight Time's stronger efforts on the format as the print utilized for the release seems to be dated with lots of white specks on this presentation, occasional dirt, faded looking colors, and some general softness to the image. Mississippi Mermaid could use restorative work. This high-def presentation is a relatively modest one at best. On the positive side, there is a layer of fine film grain so the presentation appears naturally filmic throughout.

Audio:

The film is presented in French 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono. This preserves the original sound design. The presentation is generally clean sounding and features excellent dialogue reproduction. The presentation lacks a little in high fidelity quality due to source age and condition but this is still a reasonably strong audio presentation for the film.

English subtitles are provided.

Extras:

This release includes the following supplements: Isolated Score Track in DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo, Audio Commentary with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman, a booklet written by Julie Kirgo, and the Theatrical Trailer for Mississippi Mermaid.

Final Thoughts:

As a huge fan of many of Truffaut's films, I expected to love Mississippi Mermaid. Alas, the film is quite different from most of his other works. The film is more cynical and dark than a typical Truffaut effort and it showcases the influence of Hitchcock more than it demonstrates his own distinct style as an artist.

Fans of Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Deneuve, and François Truffaut should certainly give it a look. The filmmaking is certainly ambitious and has good artistic merits even if it is relatively weak for a Truffaut film. The performances are strong and are demonstrative of why Belmondo and Deneuve are acting legends.

Newcomers should consider giving Mississippi Mermaid a rental first but the release may be worth a purchase for Truffaut fans. The Twilight Time Blu-ray has the best presentation available on home media, even if it is also flawed (like the film itself).

Recommended.       

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.


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