Truffaut’s Mississippi Mermaid at BAM


Dedicated to Jean Renoir, based on a noir novel by Cornell Woolrich, and an homage of sorts to Vertigo, Truffaut’s frequently overlooked eighth feature isn’t kid stuff. Mississippi Mermaid—sandwiched between his Stolen Kisses (1968), which tracks Antoine Doinel’s transition from boy to man, and The Wild Child (1970)—pairs two superstars, Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Belmondo, for its bifurcated story of crazy-in-love adults. When tobacco tycoon Louis (Belmondo), living on the island of Réunion, meets his mail-order bride, Julie (Deneuve), he’s too intoxicated by her beauty to admit she looks nothing like the framed 8×10 on his wall. Julie, née Marion, drains Louis’s account; he cracks up, finds her working at a discotheque in Antibes, pulls out a gun, listens to the story of her depraved life, confesses his love, and lams it with her. The unwieldy plot is grounded by its fascinating leads, especially Deneuve, memorably suffering night terrors. No mere genre-tinkering, MM also serves as a memento mori equally touching and perverse: A scene of Louis fondling Marion, who pretends to be asleep, replicates a moment from another unjustly neglected Truffaut film, The Soft Skin (1964), starring Françoise Dorléac, Deneuve’s beloved older sister, who died in 1967.