Years after Jules et Jim (1962), François Truffaut and Jeanne Moreau reunited to adapt a novel by noir author Cornell Woolrich entitled The Bride Wore Black. The film is evasive and mysterious, as Jeanne Moreau’s Julie has obscured motives when she seeks out to murder five seemingly unconnected men. A neo-noir in nearly every sense of the term, Truffaut trades in dark interiors and the shadow of night for sunshine and well-lit rooms.
While far from the best of Truffaut’s work, The Bride Wore Black (1968) works well due to its sense of humor and pastiche. While slightly past the heyday of the French New Wave, the film adopts the ethos of the movement — at least in terms of its post-modern take on a classic cinematic genre. This visual antithesis of noir, which could have been designed to exemplify the themes (in particular their absurdity), also works against the film. While Truffaut’s humanism always managed to raise the bar for even his most middling productions, this part of his career in particular seems plagued by a lack of style. Visually speaking, The Bride Wore Black is mostly bland. It certainly doesn’t inspire the same way Truffaut’s best work can, nor the way his contemporaries continued to push the boundaries of visual and auditory styles.
Yet, through all of that blandness, there is Jeanne Moreau, who sells a role that likely would not have worked with an unknown actor (at least not as well). This reveals the hidden skill of Truffaut’s success: casting. He was always adventurous in that regard, especially with the casting of Jean-Pierre Léaud throughout his life — a move that befits the praise lumped on Richard Linklater’s Boyhood (2014). The casting of Charles Aznavour in Shoot the Piano Player was a similarly risky proposition that paid off, as the singer brought the suave rebellion of his music to a role that was ultimately not very musical. While casting Jeanne Moreau was hardly a risk, it was done with a blank slate in mind, and it’s the audience’s familiarity with her persona and acting style that brings weight to a role that is more phantom than person.
The Bride Wore Black has a rather deft sense of humor that raises it above many of the other brightly-lit neo-noirs of the 1960s. The irony does not come from the film’s anti-style, but rather in the brazen reversal of gender roles and Moreau’s deadpan delivery. The film seems to be about the crashing of old world femininity with the new, liberated woman and how the bridge between them is not quite severed. The film works best as a joke — a wink and a nod to the disappointments of marital bliss and exaggerated scorn of a wronged woman. While far from Truffaut’s best, The Bride Wore Black still has much to offer and remains as one of the best showcases of Jeanne Moreau’s badass potential.
Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies, and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she is the film editor of Sound on Sight and a freelance writer.