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July 21, 2015

Movie Review: Mississippi Mermaid (1969; MGM/Twilight Time)

...braving the lambast-worthy gauntlet of losing some respectable points as one of many cult film auteurs out there, the respected 'comma, then title' moniker which this reviewer make an unabashed claim to...he...uh, he (...stutter, stutter)...he has to candidly, and...swell, quite shamefully admit, he...uh, he (...stutter, stutter) had never partaken of a film, produced and directed by the great Francois Truffaut...that is, until now. Admittedly, as a very young and budding embracee of cult films, this reviewer had heard of this extraordinarily masterful filmmaker, at least enough to know that his film artistry was, at the very least, something more than noteworthy, and he was even dimly privy to some of Truffaut's early film work (...'fancy-schmancy arthouse' films, I called them back then...and as a youth...well, perhaps it was understandable that I wasn't into 'fancy-schmancy', though indeed, such films were as yet beyond my level of understanding and appreciation, at the time), without actually having seen them...classics like "Fahrenheit 451", "Story of Adele H" and "Shoot the Pianist", amongst others...

...no siree...this reviewer's first exposure to Francois Truffaut wasn't even his prowess at film direction; rather, it was his authoritative, albeit language-hampered performance as Claude Lacombe, in the wonder, instilling 1977, Steven Spielberg-directed sci-fi classic, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". However, even in that enigmatic performance alone, there was an aura of interest and fascination, which shone through...not in the character he played, but in the performer...or rather, the artist himself, the exposition of which could not be denied, nor ignored...

...and so, though this reviewer ever-so humbly hangs his head in shame, for not affording himself the opportunity of the Truffaut experience...well, in assuming the mantle as a respected and devoted appreciator of film, part of that appreciation irreparably involves the discovery, or re-discovery of films, far too long unseen. Hey...in the end, it's a learning experience, right?? and so, without any further adieu...curtain up, and lights dim, if you please...
...whether a question of tradition, of prestige, or of social status...nonetheless, it has become necessary for solitary, albeit quite wealthy plantation owner Louis Mehe to take a wife; having long corresponded, via newspaper personals, with an eligible, willing and...by her picture...quite lovely lady, living over in the French providence of New Caledonia. Increasingly excited about finally meeting her, face-to-face, Louis makes haste to the local shipping docks, to pick her up and take her to his home. However, once at the docks, he is abruptly taken aback...though, not necessarily in a bad way...when he discovers that his betrothed lady, Julie, looks nothing like her photograph, and it is at that time that Julie reveals that, out of self-consciousness over the sincerity of the proposal, she sent a picture of a neighbor, rather then herself. Waving off the understood & innocent falsehood as happenstance, and nonetheless expressing his resigned joy and approval of Julie, as she is...perhaps even a bit drawn toward the apparent mystery and diversity of the situation...Louis drives off with Julie, quickly gets married to her, and they eagerly proceed with their new & happy life together...
...and as they both settle into their new married life, Louis becomes even more bewildered, and yet even more attracted to Julie, and the shrouded air of mystery hovering over her, when further inconsistencies, regarding her past life...her wants and desires...her likes and dislikes...arise, as further conversation and behavior progressively reveals. Inexplicably further drawn to Julie, in that respect, Louis begins to impart an absolute trust and unswervingly dedicated sense of love in Julie...even going as far as affording her full access to his business and personal bank accounts, as well as in adoring tribute to her, imprinting her beautiful visage image on the cigarette packages, which his plantation company manufactures...

...the ever-piling inconsistencies and complications take a more adverse turn, when Louis receives a letter from Julie's sister, Berthe, in New Caledonia, demanding to know where Julie is, and what she has been doing, as Julie seems to have neglected to write her, for weeks on end...something which was clearly and very much unlike Julie, according to Berthe. Upon finishing the letter, a flush of disbelieving realization falls over Louis, as he immediately drives over to his plantation villa, only to find that...Julie has left, without leaving a word; further disbelief at the ensuing situation proves even more desperate, when Louis checks with his bank, only to find that Julie has withdrawn most of the monies from his business and personal financial accounts...

...Louis is awashed in anger and frustration, in realizing that he has been foolishly taken for everything he had...albeit, except for his company and his villa. Further frustration and complication ensues, as Berthe arrives on the island to meet with Louis...and reveals that although she saw her sister off, when she sailed the ship Mississippi to meet him for the first time, the girl whom he ultimately married was not her sister. Enraged, confused, and resigning himself to believing that he has seen the last of Julie, the need for justice and closure still coerces him to hire a private detective, in an effort to hunt Julie down. A local and covert investigator, Detective Comolli (Michael Bouquet), eagerly assumes the case, promising an unswervingly dogged and determined effort...

...however, still inexplicably and irresistibly drawn toward Julie, despite his anger towards her...and as such, very much torn between possibly saving her, seeing her meet a swift & deserving justice, or outright seeing her dead, Louis boards up & locks his villa, and with covert haste, leaves the island, in desperate search for Julie, himself...with little to no consideration of the further adverse situations, which he might come across...dire, inescapable situations, which at worst, might well threaten his very life...or at the very least, cause his life and everything he knows...everything he is, to uncontrollably spiral into abysmal turmoil...
...once again exuding this reviewer's initiation into the world of director Francois Truffaut, the first thing out the gate, which stood out like an subtle elephant in the room...an elephant, trying to hide the fact that it's there, and doing so, ever so eloquently...is the fact that Truffaut is clearly a student and devotee of the great Alfred Hitchcock...subtle and clever inspiration of the master, rather than imitation (...as opposed to some filmmakers, who attempt to 'shine-up', re-invent...even daringly try to outdo the renowned knighted film maestro...yes, we're glaring at you, Mr DePalma), and in the case of Truffaut, that is a pretty good thing. "Mississippi Mermaid" had a specific flavor to it's proceedings of intrigue and mystery, which reflect a very dark and torrid side of romance and obsession...it's emotionally wrought characters, irrevocably driven to a destiny, well towards the contrary of what they might have wholly expected, or planned for...and yet, either willingly resigning themselves to such inexplicable fate, or at the very least, being clever and resourceful enough to be willing to adapt and sacrifice of themselves...even for the sake of others...in order to gear themselves to such inevitable fate...
...the storyline seems to prod along at a simmering, pot-boiler pace, which in itself, might disinterest most viewers, if that was the only case, herein. However, what strings us along the slow-burning progression of events, are our unconventionally lovelorn protagonists...Jean-Paul Belmondo as the hapless Louis Mehe, and the exquisite Catherine Deneuve, as beautiful as she is deceptive, in the role of Julie Roussel. Their intimate and ultimately tumultuous character play is most assuredly a picture of absolute captivation for the mind and eye of the film audience, in the sense that, being the 'outside, looking in' voyeurists of what these two unfortunate souls go through, one cannot imagine getting so caught up in such waywardly stormy events...and yet, surprisingly enough, in considering stepping into their shoes, and surrendering one's self to the passions and obsessions reflected herein, some might understand how so very easily these two helplessly fall victim to said passions and obsessions, no matter how self-serving they might be...
...further emphasizing the frenetic and episodic Hitchcock-ian fervor of the film, the photography of the film exudes a certain bleak and dreary feeling to the events, as they unfold...almost displaying a subtle hint of classic film noir...a certain non-brilliance, like there's always a storm building up and brewing in the skies above, something that offers a subtle premonition of things to come, as far as the storyline...which is genuinely surprising, in the case of "Mississippi Mermaid", as this film is rendered in color, as opposed to the black & white haunting dreariness, which film noir is often known for. In addition, the musical score brilliantly runs a parallel course with the film's events, ideally alternating it's tone from sweet and intimate, to frenetic and desperate...
...for this reviewer, for all of the limited edition Twilight Time offerings, which he has afforded himself, this digital rendition of "Mississippi Mermaid" seems to be one of their lesser great-looking efforts; fortunately, the wayward specks, scratches and faded-color moments of the film are hardly distracting, and in a small way, the minimally decrepit print adds a bit to the overall bleakness of the unfolding film-story. In fact, it might even be safe to say that a total restoration of the film, which some might conject that the film assuredly needs, would even diminish the timely feel of the film print, itself...
...ya' know?? With the littlest of exception, this reviewer never checks other reviews of films, which he himself is reviewing, until well after finishing his own review; however, juxstapositioned advance word from a fellow film collector seemed to suggest that "Mississippi Mermaid" reportedly wasn't one of director Francois Truffaut's best pieces of work, which upon checking previous reviews, such assumption seemed to be unanimous. However, if this particular piece is widely monikered as one of Truffaut's not so best...a captivating, albeit torrid and unconventional tale of obsessed and devoted love towards someone who is hard-pressed to know and feel what it's like to truly be loved...and in the film, the character of Julie does often question whether or not she's deserved of such love...then this viewer, considering that "Mississippi Mermaid" is an impressive initiation to Truffaut's work...cannot wait to check out the more reputed and greater embraced Truffaut film catalogue...

...clearly, we're talking about yet another example of a filmmaker, whose lesser appreciated and considerately not-so-great work is...well, still pretty damn good, in this reviewer's book...

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